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Red Planets 

This book is being copublisbed with Pluto Press in the UK, and 
appears there as part of their Marxism and Culture series. 

Red Planets 

Marxism and Science Fiction 

Edited by 


Wesleyan University Press 
Middletown, Connecticut 

Published by Wesleyan University Press 
Middletown, CT 06459 

Published simultaneously in 2009 by Pluto Press 

Copyright © Mark Bould and China Mieville 2009 

Library of Congress Control Number: 2009926386 

This book is printed on paper suitable for recycling and made from 
fully managed and sustained forest sources. Logging, pulping and 
manufacturing processes are expected to conform to the environmental 
standards of the country of origin. The paper may contain up to 
70 per cent post-consumer waste. 

10 987654321 

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Printed and bound in the European Union by 

CPI Antony Rowe, Chippenham and Eastbourne 

in memory of Bill Burling 
a dear friend 


Series Preface ix 
Mike Wayne and Esther Leslie 


Rough Guide to a Lonely Planet, from Nemo to Neo 1 
Mark Bould 


1. The Anamorphic Estrangements of Science Fiction 29 
Matthew Beaumont 

2. Art as 'The Basic Technique of Life': Utopian Art 

and Art in Utopia in The Dispossessed and Blue Mars 47 
William ]. Burling 

3. Marxism, Cinema and some Dialectics of Science 
Fiction and Film Noir 66 
Carl Freedman 

4. Spectacle, Technology and Colonialism in 

SF Cinema: The Case of Wim Wenders' Until the 

End of the World 83 

John Rieder 


5. The Singularity is Here 103 
Steven Shaviro 

6. Species and Species-Being: Alienated Subjectivity 

and the Commodification of Animals 118 
Sherryl Vint 


7. Ken MacLeod's Permanent Revolution: 
Utopian Possible Worlds, History and the 

Augenblick in the Fall Revolution Quartet 137 
Phillip Wegner 


8. 'Madonna in moon rocket with breeches': 
Weimar SF Film Criticism during the Stabilisation 
Iris Luppa 

9. The Urban Question in New Wave SF 
Rob Latham 

10. Towards a Revolutionary Science Fiction: 
Althusser's Critique of Historicity 
Darren Jorgensen 

1 1 . Utopia and Science Fiction Revisited 
Andrew Milner 


Cognition as Ideology: A Dialectic of SF Theory 231 
China Mieville 

Appendices 249 

About the Contributors 280 

Index 283 




There have been quite a number of books with the title 'Marxism 
and...', and many of these have investigated the crossing points 
of Marxism and cultural forms, from Fredric Jameson's Marxism 
and Form to Terry Eagleton's Marxism and Literary Criticism, 
Raymond Williams' Marxism and Literature, John Frow's 
Marxism and Literary History and Cary Nelson and Lawrence 
Grossberg's Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. These 
titles are now all quite old. Many of them were published in the 
1970s and 1980s, years when the embers of 1968 and its events 
continued to glow, if weakly. Through the 1990s Marxism got 
bashed; it was especially easily mocked once its 'actually existing' 
socialist version was toppled with the fall of the Berlin Wall. 
Postmodernism made Marxism a dirty word, and class struggle a 
dirty thought and even dirtier deed. But those days that consigned 
Marxism to history themselves now seem historical. The president 
of France spoke fearfully of the return of the spirit of 1968 at 
the end of 2008, when Athens was burning and the anomalous 
wave rippled through Italy. The crash of neo-liberalism in a now 
global economy has trashed many so-called certainties about the 
superiority of capitalism. A new spirit of critical questioning is 
emergent. Marxism, however critically its inheritance is viewed, 
cannot be overlooked by the increasing numbers who make efforts 
to provide an analysis and a consequent practice. 

Our series 'Marxism and Culture' investigates Marxism as 
a method for understanding culture, a mode of probing and 
explaining. Equally, our titles self-reflexively consider Marxism as 
an historical formation, with differing modulations and resonances 
across time - that is to say, as something itself to be probed and 
explained. The first two books in the series address popular or mass 
culture. Mike Wayne's Marxism and Media Studies outlines the 
resources of Marxist theory for understanding the contemporary 



mediascape, while also proposing how the academic discipline 
of Media Studies might be submitted to Marxist analysis. John 
Roberts' Philosophizing the Everyday uncovers the revolutionary 
origins of the philosophical concept of the everyday, recapturing 
it from a synonymity with banality and ordinariness propounded 
by theorists in Cultural Studies. 

A volume on Marxism and the History of Art shifted the 
attention to 'high culture'. Taking into its broad scope the insights 
of a number of key figures in Marxist aesthetics, the volume 
reveals the pertinence of Marxist theory to manifold aspects of the 
art world: the materiality of art; the art market and the vagaries of 
value; the art object as locus of ideology; artists, art historians and 
art critics as classed beings; art and economy; art as commodity; 
the analogism of form and historical developments. 

This latest book in the series is devoted to the exploration 
of science fiction, a mass culture genre which has produced 
an identifiable tradition of novelists with explicitly socialist 
commitments, going back at least as far as William Morris, who 
wrote News From Nowhere (1890), a story that imagines a future 
communist society where work is a pleasurable creative activity. 
Science fiction has also attracted considerable interest from 
Marxist critics, drawn to a genre in which the dynamics between 
technology, social relations under capital, and the human body 
are explored and experimented with. As a result, a very strong 
tradition of Marxist SF criticism (in both literature and film) has 
emerged and developed within academia in the last 40 years or so. 
This anthology draws on the debates that have taken place within 
this tradition, provides a critical assessment of current Marxist 
approaches to the genre, and opens up new perspectives and 
paths for Marxist SF criticism to explore. It remains absolutely 
essential, if we are to break with the horizon of capital, both to 
imagine alternative models of social being and to critically decode 
the ways in which those alternative models remain tied, by the 
sticky threads of ideology, to the horizon of capital. This book 
makes a contribution to that important task. 

Mike Wayne and Esther Leslie 



Mark Bould 

For most of the eighty or so years since science fiction (SF) was 
identified and named as a distinct genre, 1 it has typically been 
dismissed as the infantile excrescence of a stultifying mass culture, 
a literature doubly debased by its fantastic elements and mediocre 
prose. Whenever an SF novel - such as George Orwell's Nineteen 
Eighty-Four (1949), Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (1973), 
Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1 985) or Molly Gloss's 
Wild Life (2000) - is found to contradict such expectations, it is 
generally treated as 'not really SF' or as somehow 'transcending 
the genre'. The same is true of SF in other media, with films such 
as Alphaville (Godard, 1965), 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 
1968), Solaris (Tarkovsky, 1972), Possible Worlds (Lepage, 2000) 
or Le Temps du Loup (Haneke, 2003) often regarded as the works 
of an 'auteur' rather than the products of a genre and industry. 
• Such a position is as ill-informed about the nature, breadth and 
variety of SF as it is transparent in its cultural politics of taste. 
This is not to claim that all SF is good (whatever that might 
mean), but that the genre is deserving of more serious attention 
than common stereotypes suggest. And even if this were not true 
of individual SF texts and practices, 2 it would be true of the 
genre's cultural reach and impact. For example, the two highest- 
grossing films of 2008 - Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight 
and Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the 
Crystal Skulls - were science-fictional, each taking US$1 billion 
globally (before revenues from merchandising and ancillary sales 



to DVD, television, and so on); a group of SF writers, including 
Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Greg Bear, originally proposed 
the Strategic Defense Initiative to Ronald Reagan in the early 
1980s, and these writers are now part of the Sigma group, whose 
motto is 'Science Fiction in the National Interest', and advise the 
US Department of Homeland Security on the so-called War on 
Terror; 3 and while millions of people belong to science-fictional 
religions, such as the Church of Scientology, many others claim 
to have been abducted by aliens. Even if one were to find all SF 
texts to be without value or interest, one surely cannot dismiss 
such instances of the genre's cultural significance. 

SF began to receive serious academic attention in the late 1950s. 
SF studies emerged as a (primarily literary) discipline in the 1970s 
and, since the postmodern turn of the 1980s, it has developed 
to include cultural studies, film studies, television studies, game 
studies, and so on. It has long been allied with Marxist, feminist 
and queer theory, and increasingly with critical race studies, as 
politically engaged theorists and critics have found in the genre 
the radical potential for thinking differently about the world. In 
this volume, we have brought together the work of a number of 
explicitly Marxist thinkers who engage with SF, ranging from 
the most established to the newest figures in the field. In the 
remainder of this introduction, I will outline one of the reasons 
why Marxists should care about SF (and SF about Marxism), 
before briefly introducing their contributions to this vital and 
growing body of criticism. 

Fredric Jameson argues that William Gibson's Pattern Recognition 
(2003) and Bruce Sterling's collection A Good Old-Fashioned 
Future (1999) are manifestations of the contemporary 'geopolitical 
Imaginary'. In addition to illustrating 'the inner networks of 
global communication and information' and surfing the entre- 
preneurial excitement 'of the money to be made' from developing 
and exploiting them, these recent fictions by the two figures most 
responsible for the emergence and visibility of cyberpunk in the 
1980s also express 'the truth of emergent globalization' and 
provide 'a first crude inventory of the new world system'.' 1 But 


Jameson deploys an oddly anachronistic allusion - 'a Cook's tour 
of the new global waystations' 5 - which suggests that SF has long 
been doing these things. 

In an earlier essay, Jameson entertained the position that 'there 
has always been globalization': 'trade routes have been global 
in their scope' since the Neolithic, 'with Polynesian artifacts 
deposited in Africa and Asian potsherds as far afield as the New 
World'. 6 Cook's tours, however, originated in the mid nineteenth 
century, close to the dates commonly associated with the birth of 
SF. 7 Thomas Cook was ten years old when Mary Shelley published 
Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818). He made his 
first commercial arrangement with a transport company to carry 
a group of passengers he had organised in 1 84 1 , the year of Edgar 
Allan Poe's 'A Descent into the Maelstrom'. This relationship 
with Midland Counties Railway became permanent in 1844, the 
year of Poe's 'A Tale of the Ragged Mountains' and 'Mesmeric 
Revelation', leading Cook to found his company and begin, in 
1845, the year of 'The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar', to 
organise trips further afield. In 1872, the year of Jules Verne's 
Around the World in Eighty Days, Cook began his own round- 
the-world tours, although in the opposite direction to that taken 
by Phileas Fogg and Passepartout, and taking three times as long. 
By the time of Cook's death in 1892, the year of Konstantin 
Tsiolkovky's 'On the Moon' and the first Frank Reade dime 
novels, his company was selling over 3 million tickets per year. 
In the preceding year, new author H.G. Wells had published 'The 
Rediscovery of the Unique', an essay arguing that 'Science is a 
match that man has just got alight' but 'around him ... darkness 
still'; 8 in 1893 he had published 'Man of the Year Million', whose 
speculations on future human evolution underpinned his design 
of the Martians in The War of the Worlds (1898), and, in 1894 
and 1 895, different versions of his first novel, The Time Machine. 
When Wells died, in 1946, Thomas Cook &c Son was no longer a 
family business, but owned by four railway companies. 

Fantastic fictions of various sorts and across multiple media can 
easily be read as expressions of - and are sometimes concerned with 
-capitalist modernity. In broad terms, supernatural horror depicts 


pasts that refuse to die (haunting, legacies, degenerations) and 
subjects made monstrous (vampires, werewolves, zombies), while 
fantasy emphasises endangered feudalism (aristocratic elves leave 
Middle Earth to petit bourgeois hobbits, who will be supplanted 
by humans, whose proletarian nature is foreshadowed by ores). 
On some level, then, both genres are also about changes within 
- or of - the mode of production and their consequences. 

All of the fantastic genres require and allow imaginary world- 
building: none of them take place in a world which pretends to 
straightforward mimesis (although this does not prevent them 
being, in various senses, verisimilitudinous, realistic or mimetic). 
SF world-building is typically distinguished from other fictional 
world-building, whether fantastic or not, by the manner in which 
it offers, however unintentionally, a snapshot of the structures 
of capital. (This is not always or exclusively the case, and may 
often be unintentional; and it is important to recognise that it 
is a difference of degree rather than of kind.) This is perhaps 
best explained by metaphor. In the metal-working process called 
'bossing', a piece of sheet metal is placed against a shot bag - a 
soft leather bag not quite stuffed with shot or sand - and gently 
hammered with a bossing mallet so as to curve the metal into 
the desired shape. When one removes the finished artefact, it 
leaves behind a rough impression, a negative space, in the bag. 
Because SF requires the writer to structure plausible worlds and 
futures, the innovations which she integrates into a model of 
social totality impact against material reality. When the fictional 
world is held up for our regard, a pristine and total creation, it 
has nonetheless left behind a negative space. And because such 
fictions rarely address the economic dimensions of social totality, 
that negative space is often primarily, if unwittingly, bound by 
the structures, potentials and limits of capital. To demonstrate 
this capacity - which is not a definition - of SF, I will turn to two 
works with much in common: Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand 
Leagues under the Seas (1869) and the Matrix trilogy (Wachowski 
brothers, 1999, 2003, 2003). 

I will begin with three uncontentious points about Verne's 
fiction. First, as Pierre Macherey argues, 'the subject of all Verne's 


work' is 'Man's domination of nature': 'science will eventually 
know and transform nature entirely'.' Second, Verne frequently 
catalogues the world through which his characters pass, drawing 
extensively on and 'restating], rewrit[ing] or recycling] knowledge 
gleaned in the scientific, geographical and historical reviews of the 
day', 10 leading Darko Suvin to observe that the 'world of Verne's 
early books is ... more interpolated than extrapolated from the 
imaginative space of textbooks of exotic geography, zoology, 
mineralogy'. 11 Third, as Marc Angenot notes, Verne's narratives 
are 'narratives of circulation* 12 - hence Suvin's observation that 
Captain Nemo was almost crushed beneath the Antarctic ice as 
a punishment for daring to stop at the South Pole, 'the still point 
of the whirling globe'. 13 Despite Angenot's suggestive comments 
- 'Verne portrays expense, not accumulation; circulation, not 
surplus value' 14 - the connection between this circulation and 
capital remains relatively unexplored, especially in relation to 
these other characteristics of Verne's work. 

Twenty Thousand Leagues starts with a synopsis of maritime 
encounters with a gigantic, fast-moving hazard in the Pacific and 
Atlantic oceans, beginning the novel's mapping of the transport 
and communications networks of the emerging world market. 
The encounters never just happen at sea, but at specific grid 
references on the global map; and the ships involved are never 
merely ships, but the property of commercial shipping ventures (or 
occasionally navies). In addition to a brief history of the Cunard 
Line, the first two chapters also mention the Calcutta and Burma 
Steam Navigation Company, the West India and Pacific Steamship 
Company, the French Line, the Royal Mail, the Inman Line, the 
Montreal Ocean Company and the San Francisco-Shanghai line, 
clearly indicating the flows of global commerce. As reports of 
brushes with this nautical anomaly arrive 'hot on the heels of one 
another', so the supposed 

monster came into fashion in all the big cities: it was sung about in the 
cafes, jeered at in the newspapers, acted out in the theatres. The canards 
had a perfect chance to lay whoppers of every hue. Each imaginary gigantic 
creature resurfaced in the papers. 15 


The actual destination of this flow of information remains 
unspecified, creating a sense of a rhizomatic communications 
network without a centre. This resonates strongly with the 'com- 
municational concept of globalization' which, Jameson suggests, 
leads 'into a postmodern celebration of difference and differentia- 
tion: suddenly all cultures around the world are placed in tolerant 
contact with each other in a kind of immense cultural pluralism'. 16 
Some trace of this is evident in the first meal Nemo serves aboard 
the Nautilus, which includes 'fillet of turtle', 'dolphin livers', 
whale's milk, seaweed sugar and 'a sea slug jam that a Malay 
would declare without equal'. 17 However, the economic concept 
of globalisation produces a sense of 'a world-system from which 
"delinking" ... is henceforth impossible and even unthinkable 
and inconceivable'. 18 While the failure to designate the reports' 
destination(s) might imply the absence of a centre, it equally 
suggests the invisibility of the system's fundamental dissymmetry 
to those at its core: the identities of the presumptively European 
and North American 'big cities' are so obvious as not to require 
naming. Likewise, despite the apparent neutrality of the grid of 
longitude and latitude, its origins and purpose are to be found in 
the projects of imperial and economic expansion and integration. 
Consequently, in Twenty Thousand Leagues the world often seems 
reduced to, or captured within, a grid of equivalised positions 
across which commerce flows, like version 1 .0 of the internet. 

Martin Willis notes that the supposed 'sea serpent', actually 
the Nautilus, 'enters the world of imagination before it reaches 
science, becoming a song, a piece of prose, a sketch, and a myth 
before any scientific system is brought to bear';" but more 
significant is its entry into the world of information, promptly 
and widely commodified before its existence is even verified. 
Its integration into global capital proceeds apace. Following its 
collision with Cunard's Scotia, 'maritime losses from unknown 
causes were simply attributed to the monster', leading to a 
panic about 'travel between the various continents ... becoming 
increasingly dangerous': insurance companies threaten 'to raise 
their premium rates' and 'industrial and commercial journals' 
argue for the need to 'purge the seas of this redoubtable monster, 


in order to safeguard cross-ocean communications'. 20 As Professor 
Aronnax explains, the crew of the vessel upon which he and 
his companions were pursuing the Nautilus thought they were 
hunting 'some powerful marine monster, which it was necessary 
to rid the ocean of at any cost'. 21 

Nemo himself embodies many of the contradictions of the 
emergent world market. On the one hand, he wishes thoroughly 
to de-link himself from the human world. He declares himself 
'a man who has broken with humanity' and 'not what you call 
a civilized being'; elsewhere he refuses to distinguish between 
'savages' and other men, or between surface men and sharks. 22 
He rhapsodises about the sea's peacefulness and lack of tyrants 
- on the oceans' 'surface immoral rights can still be claimed, 
men can fight each other, devour each other, and carry out all the 
earth's atrocities. But thirty feet below the surface their power 
ceases, their influence fades, their authority disappears' - and 
imagines 'founding cities in the sea, agglomerations of underwater 
dwellings which ... would come up to breathe on the surface of the 
oceans each morning, free cities if ever there were any, independent 
cities!' 23 Although Nemo's hatred of despotism and yearning 
for independence is given no specific motivation, 24 he strongly 
identifies with anti-colonial struggles. He recognises a Sinhalese, 
'the inhabitant of an oppressed country', as a 'compatriot ... to 
my last breath'. 25 He secretly finances Crete's rebellion against the 
Turks. He pays tribute to the wreck of the Vengeur and decorates 
his cabin with portraits of republican, anti-colonialist, nationalist 
and abolitionist leaders. However, Nemo's support for such causes 
also prevents his de-linking from the global economy. Not only 
does he take sides in various struggles; his vast wealth is itself 
derived from colonial plunder (he loots sunken Spanish treasure 
ships and other wrecks). Moreover, the Nautilus is assembled 
from components custom-made by various companies, each 'sent 
from a different point on the globe via a forwarding address'. 26 
The companies, which Verne names, are located in Le Creusot, 
Essen, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Motala, New York and Paris. 
While the island to which these components are delivered and 
on which the Nautilus is constructed appears to be at the centre 


of a commercial web, a confluence of mail and cargo delivery 
networks, this is merely - as these named locations indicate - the 
temporary activation of a network centred in northwest Europe 
and the US. The Nautilus's construction exemplifies the 'rocketing 
exportation of heavy machinery from the industrial core countries, 
which characterized the extended economic boom of the 1850s 
through the early 1870s that decisively established capitalism as 
the single unifying world economy', 27 and also provides a model 
for increasingly common production practices in which subcon- 
tractors remain ignorant of the overall project towards which their 
efforts contribute - a relationship homologous to that between 
the capitalist and the alienated proletarian. This in turn suggests 
another contradiction: Nemo's longed-for separation from the 
emerging world market can also be seen as exemplifying capital's 
own desire for transcendence. 

Jameson suggests that, when we try to think of globalisation as 
a 'purely communicational concept, we begin to fill in the empty 
signifier with visions of financial transfers and investments all 
over the world, and the new networks begin to swell with the 
commerce of some new and allegedly more flexible capitalism'. 28 
Likewise, SF's depictions of cyberspace, 'the information space 
"behind" computer screens, networking together Information and 
Communications Technologies', tend to work as a euphemism 
or 'metaphor for dematerialised, immaterial or friction-free 
capital-in-circulation'. 29 The seas through which Nemo circulates 

- 'Mobile in the mobile element' 30 - often function in a similar way. 
Midway through his disquisition on the ocean's circulation, Nemo 
himself describes the sea, in its planetary homeostatic function, 
as the 'stabilizer of the overall economy of the globe', 31 while the 
descriptions of the marvels Aronnax and his companions observe 
are clearly lifted from articles, encyclopaedias and textbooks: 
just as the Nautilus's massive windows 'turn the ocean into a 
vast aquarium', 32 so this relentless cataloguing replaces nature 

- and the sea in particular - with a realm of information. Nature, 
information, capital and commodities are mapped together in 
Aronnax and Conseil's discussions of the submarine world: 
typically, the former 'looks on in wonder', while the latter 'lists, 


categorizes, and classifies species'. 33 It requires no great leap 
to recognise that this scientific colonisation is equally capital's 
colonisation of nature," or to reformulate Aronnax's rapt gaze 
and Conseil's cataloguing as twin operations of the commodity 
form: one fetishises, the other equivalises. The game is further 
given away on those occasions, of which they are nearly a dozen, 
on which Aronnax slips from contemplation to the assigning 
of exchange-value, attaching prices or market values to various 
creatures or their parts. 35 Such transpositions sometimes take on 
epic proportions - 'The Gulf Stream is a huge reservoir of heat' 
which 'would provide enough calorific value to maintain in fusion 
a river of molten iron as big as the Amazon or the Missouri' - but 
are more generally invoked so as to naturalise the commodifica- 
tion of the world, as when Conseil notes petrels 'are so oily ... 
they would ... make perfect lamps! The only thing one could ask 
is that nature herself provide them with a wick!' 36 

This fantasy of informationalisation, which seeks to disavow 
the processes of commodification it euphemises, is paralleled by 
a fantasy of linguistic dematerialisation, which seeks to disavow 
human intersubjectivity. Not only are Nemo's crewmen devoid 
of any physical sign or token of their specific national origins, 
they also speak a language unknown to the surface world and 
presumably invented by Nemo. Both of these fantasies operate 
homologously to, and share in, the 'abstraction of social products 
and practices from the laboring bodies that generate them'. 37 This 
abstraction operates across all levels, from the fetishisation of the 
commodity that obscures the social relationships of production 
to the 'bipolar opposition between Net and self that Manuel 
Castells argues increasingly structures our societies. 38 Information 
technology infrastructure, developing from such early ventures as 
the transatlantic telegraph cable to which Verne's novel devotes a 
couple of pages, has enabled the world to become 'truly global', 
aiding capital's dream of endless expansion; but while 'capital is 
global, and core production networks are increasingly globalized, 
the bulk of labor is local. Only an elite specialty labor force, of 
great strategic importance, is truly globalized'. 39 Thus, Castells 
argues, 'capital and labor increasingly tend to exist in different 


spaces and times: the space of flows and the space of places, 
instant time of computerized networks versus clock time of 
everyday life': capital now circulates - or appears to circulate - in 
the timeless time of instantaneous transactions and the spaceless 
space of instant communication, while humans must struggle to 
accommodate themselves to a network logic which breaks down 
'the rhythms, either biological or social, associated with the notion 
of a life-cycle' ?° 

This tension between human rhythms and capital's globalised 
space-time is evident from the moment Aronnax and his 
companions board the Nautilus. When their first meal is slow 
in coming, proletarian harpoonist Ned Land grows angry, while 
the bourgeois professor and his valet counsel uncomplaining 
subordination of the body to the submarine's schedule: 'I imagine 
that our appetites are ahead of the chef's bell', Aronnax comments, 
to which Conseil replies, 'So we'll simply have to reset them to 
the right time'. 41 Nemo soon reveals that the Nautilus runs on 
the 24-hour clock: 'for me there is neither night nor day, sun nor 
moon, but only the artificial light which I carry with me'. 42 In 
these class-hierarchical relationships to embodiment and time is 
the seed of the world Castells describes, but Nemo's identifica- 
tion with capital goes further than his mere kinship with the 
globalised professional class. On the one hand, he is concerned 
with reducing all materiality to a space of undifferentiated flow 
- a tendency best captured in his experiment to find the depth at 
which the sea 'possessed a constant temperature ... whatever the 
latitude'. 41 On the other hand, he seems to become like capital 
itself. His submarine, a vessel 'a century ahead of its time', 44 
crosses through a channel beneath the Suez isthmus in just 20 
minutes, and is thus simultaneously identified with a natural 
world always-already awaiting commodification and situated in 
the future of then-current commercial-imperial endeavours to 
carve out the Suez canal. 

This sense of leaping over restrictions - over material constraints, 
knowledges, technological cutting-edges - and of constant striving 
to collapse the future back into the present is typical of Verne's 
fiction. For example, in The Steam House (1880), Captain Hood 


prognosticates about future human endeavours - journeys to the 
poles, the ocean depths, the centre of the Earth - until he goes too 
far, predicting voyages to the planets: 'Man, a mere inhabitant of 
the earth, cannot overstep its boundaries', the narrator objects, 
without effect. 45 Hood's opinion is shared by Michael Arden in 
Around the Moon ( 1 870), who argues that distance effectively does 
not exist; it is also mapped onto the practice of science in Journey 
to the Centre of the Earth (1864), in which Professor Lidenbrock 
explains that 'Science ... is composed of errors, but errors that 
it is right to make, for they lead step by step to the truth'. 46 This 
passing-over of boundaries at which others have fallen forms the 
very structure of The Adventures of Captain Hatteras (1864), 
in which the progress of the polar expedition is marked by, and 
depends upon, the failure of earlier explorers. Twenty Thousand 
Leagues repeats this in miniature when Nemo recites the history, 
from 1600 onwards, of the most southerly positions reached by 
European and American vessels, each exceeding the one before 
it, and culminating in his own arrival at the South Pole. 

There are strong affinities between this recurring pattern in 
Verne and Marx's description of the logic of capital, which is 
driven by 'contradictions which are constantly overcome but just 
as constantly posited'; indeed, 'in as much as it both posits a 
barrier specific to itself, and on the other side equally drives over 
and beyond every barrier, [capital] is the living contradiction'. 47 
As Michael A. Lebowitz explains, 

capital succeeds in driving beyond all barriers and ... its development 
occurs through this very process. This contradiction within capital, in 
short, is an essential part of its movement, impulse and activity. Thus, 
the creation of the specifically capitalist mode of production, the growing 
place of fixed capital, the growth of large firms, increasing centralization 
of capital, development of new needs and of the world market - all these 
critical developments emerge as the result of capital's effort to transcend 
its barriers, to negate its negation. 48 

In Marx, Lebowitz argues, the (Hegelian) Limit to this potentially 
infinite expansion of capital is the working class - not the Abstract 
Proletarian, the 'subject-for-capital' that Marx modelled for 


analytical reasons in Capital - but full human beings, 'subjects- 
for-themselves'. Verne, however, despite his growing ambivalence 
about imperialist-industrial capitalist modernity, rarely even 
notices the working class - an absence most evident, perhaps, 
when Phileas Fogg and Passepartout cross France just a year 
after the Paris Commune and only glimpse the city, it is retro- 
spectively reported, 'through the windows of a hackney cab and 
in the pouring rain', from '7.20 to 8.40 a.m., between the Gare 
du Nord and the Gare de Lyon'. 49 

More than a century after the publication of Twenty Thousand 
Leagues, the Matrix trilogy offers a similar snapshot of the 
structures of capital, outlining in Jameson's word the 'truth' of 
globalisation. In an unspecified future, the machines farm humans 
as an energy source. Kept perpetually unconscious, these humans, 
unaware of the real situation, are plugged into the Matrix, a 
virtual-reality world that resembles our world. Modern SF's spa- 
tialisation of class, familiar from Wells's The Time Machine ( 1 895) 
and Lang's Metropolis (1926), is evident in the contrasts between 
the postmodern architecture of the virtual city's downtown and the 
subterranean existence of the last group of conscious humans. But 
the contradictions within The Matrix, and within and between its 
sequels, render it more complex, in a manner consonant with late- 
capitalism and Castells' bipolar split. This is most apparent in the 
films' fantasy of disembodied flight, of leaving behind what Agent 
Smith (Hugo Weaving) describes as the rotting flesh and stench of 
the human zoo. It can also be observed in the films' more general 
somatophobia: for example, it is all right for Trinity (Carrie- Anne 
Moss) to look sexy in skin-tight leather while engaged in slow- 
motion action sequences, but on the occasions we see characters 
wearing bondage gear - and who look like they might actually 
engage in BDSM - they are reduced to sinister signifiers. 

In the context of the communicational concept of globalisation, 
which tends to see intra-, inter-, cross- and trans-cultural contacts 
as a progressive proliferation, producing 'an immense global urban 
intercultural festival without center', 50 many have argued for the 
trilogy's multiculturalism - in its conceptualisation, production, 
casting, audio-visual field and global success. This multicultural- 


ist utopianism is often associated in particular with The Matrix 
Reloaded's dance-party in Zion, the subterranean city of the last 
free humans: a multitude of bodies - youthful, tattooed, pierced, 
predominantly non-white - rave to tribal drums and techno-beats; 
individuals become one in defiance of the machines' imminent 
onslaught. It is, perhaps, the working class that Verne could not 
depict - not reduced to subjects-for-capital but living as subjects- 
for-themselves. One can even read the protagonist, Neo, in this 
positive light, since he is played by Keanu Reeves, a Lebanon-born 
Canadian Asian-Pacific passing as white in a role originally written 
for an African-American (Will Smith), which involves learning to 
fight like a Chinese (specifically, Jet Li as choreographed by Yuen 
Woo-Ping), and yearning to be as black - as cool - as Laurence 
Fishburne, who plays rebel commander Morpheus. But one can 
also see in these moments and images Hollywood's longstanding 
practices of incorporation, whereby it scavenges successful 
elements from other cinemas which are then sold back to the 
cultures from which they have been appropriated. 

Reeves' ethnicity has never been an issue - he is to all 
intents and purposes always-already 'white' - but the Matrix 
films commodify 'blackness' and other ethnicities as images of 
resistance so as to allay the whiteness of Neo-the-messiah. 5 ' 
Likewise, while the non-white revolutionaries are technologi- 
cally competent, thus seeming to mitigate the racial logic which 
typically depicts blackness as 'always oppositional to technologi- 
cally driven chronicles of progress', 52 the trilogy nonetheless also 
replicates it: Zion's control room is, in contrast to every other 
human space, a dazzling white; the Architect (Helmut Baikatis) 
of the Matrix appears as a white man in a white suit, found 
in a white space after passing through a white light, while his 
opponent, the Oracle (Gloria Foster, Mary Alice), is a wise old 
black woman occupying brown/green domestic or public spaces; 
and Neo, who can outperform everyone else in the Matrix and 
is ultimately able to manifest his powers in the real world, is, of 
course, white, regardless of how black his clothing, accessories 
and comrades might be. This fundamental dissymmetry can also 
be seen in the dance-party, which becomes a site of public black 


passion between Link (Harold Perrineau) and Zee (Nona Gaye), 
and which is inter-cut with - and forms a backdrop for - the white 
romance and private lovemaking between Neo and Trinity. Zion 
might be the opposite of Babylon, but it is always also some New 
- and distinctly un-Blakeian - Jerusalem. 

While much of this is undoubtedly a consequence of the racist 
structures of the western imaginary, it must also be seen in terms 
of the global economy, which has itself always been caught up 
in the (re)production of this imaginary. The multiculturalism of 
the Matrix films is, in Slavoj Ziiek's words, 'the cultural logic of 
multinational capitalism' - that is, 

a disavowed, inverted, self-referential form of racism, a 'racism with a 
distance' - it 'respects' the Other's identity, conceiving the Other as a self- 
enclosed 'authentic' community towards which he, the multiculturalist, 
maintains a distance rendered possible by his privileged universal position. 
Multiculturalism is a racism which empties its own position of all positive 
content (the multiculturalist is not a direct racist, he doesn't oppose to 
the Other the particular values of his own culture), but nonetheless retains 
this position as the privileged empty point of universality from which one 
is able to appreciate (and depreciate) properly other particular cultures 
-the multiculturalist respect for the Other's specificity is the very form of 
asserting one's own superiority." 

This dynamic is evident in The Matrix's stripping-out of certain 
kinds of specificity. Shot in Sydney, it suppresses the city through 
tight control of framing, depth of field and shifts in focus so that 
only a local would recognise it (the sequels ultimately replace it 
with CGI long shots of some iiber-Manhattan). Arguably nothing 
more than an attempt to produce a 'generic' city appropriate 
to the function of the Matrix, it is also typical of Hollywood 
production practices when financial considerations dictate 
shooting US-set films in Canada or overseas. This would also 
explain the suppression, within and without the Matrix, of local 
accents in favour of a 'universalised' American-ish one. Likewise, 
Neo can do 'his Superman thing' but he is never compared to, say, 
Ultraman, Diabolik or Santo. As in Verne, there is an unspoken 
centre, a point of 'universality'. 


Such recurring tensions between fixity and fluidity are a crude 
impression of the uneven consolidation of the world market. On the 
one hand is the fantasy of a world transformed into information- 
capital - not only is the diegetic world of the Matrix composed 
entirely of code, represented by lines of digits cascading down 
computer monitors outside the Matrix and becoming visible to the 
resurrected Neo within it, but also extra-diegetically of digitised 
images on the cinema screen itself - and on the other is a longing 
for certainty, whether of premodern religion (prophecies, Zion's 
temple, Gnostic allusions) or rational, modern space-time. 

Jameson suggests that the appearance of spatial discontinui- 
ties - 'doors that literally open onto other worlds, that connect 
radically distinct types of spaces whose difference can range 
from worldly to otherworldly' - characteristic of A.E. van 
Vogt's 'Golden Age' SF can be read 'as a virtual allegory of the 
brutal and abrupt world-displacements of Americans at war' to 
which van Vogt's own 'displacements, from western Canada to 
[Ottawa], and thence to Los Angeles, sensitized him in advance', 
or as creating an effect of juxtapositions with other worlds, 
'something like tourism before the Second World War'. 54 With 
post-war consolidation of the world market, these disjunctions 
seem to become increasingly part of everyday life. Unsurprisingly, 
then, they are common in the trilogy: between the Matrix and the 
world; between the world and other simulated spaces (the dojo, 
weapons shop, station platform); in the corridor of backdoors into 
the Matrix programme; and in the frantic pursuit of the Keymaker 
(Randall Duk Kim), who can open doors onto other spaces which 
then disconnect when the door is closed. Similarly, the films also 
play across discursive levels. One soon learns that all dialogue 
is to be taken literally: the dead metaphors that clutter language 
unnoticed are retro-activated by later events, while the figurative 
dimension often turns out to have been evacuated. Character 
names seem to possess allegorical meaning, but never do more 
than merely invite one to read the films allegorically." Such lit- 
eralisations and pinnings-down promise certainty; their constant 
refusal tends instead to destabilise. Consequently, in its recurring 
non-contiguities and unreliabilities, the trilogy appears as yet 


another allegory of the experience of unmappable late-capital: 
an era in which colonial structures might be perpetuated but in 
which there are now 'only colonies, no colonizing countries', and 
in which capital has become effectively 'an anonymous global 
machine blindly running its course'. 56 

Intertwined with this tendency towards equivalisation, in 
which everything becomes a dematerialised value in circulation 

- evoked by Agent Smith who, having freed himself from the 
machines, reproduces without limit or control - is the yearning for 
knowability. Within the Matrix, the rebels communicate via cell 
phones, mobile and thus effectively placeless nodes in a centreless 
network; but they depend upon geographically specific phones 

- fixed landlines - in order to enter and exit the virtual world; 
and when they race through the maze of building interiors and 
rooftops, they rely upon an 'operator' outside the Matrix who 
can map their place within it. Neo ultimately arranges peace with 
the machines - fixed entities - by removing the threat posed to 
them (and the humans) by the infinitely replicable Smith, who has 
even found a way out of the Matrix into the physical world - like 
capital crossing yet another barrier specific to itself. 

These contradictory tendencies are evoked in The Matrix's 
conclusion. After Neo has achieved the impossible, gaining perfect 
knowledge of the system while situated within it, he takes to the 
air to the sound of Rage Against the Machine's 'Wake Up'. This 
track evokes the modern guitar-based rock of earlier moments 
of countercultural resistance, but its reliance on digital recording 
technologies shifts its signification, rendering it postmodern 
information-capital. According to the Architect, previous versions 
of the Matrix failed because of a residual human element that 
resisted the perfection of the virtual world. That trace is audible in 
'Wake Up': in the space between the sound of rebellious pleasure 
and the sound of cash registers, and between community and 
community, the communicational and the economic, use-value 
and exchange-value, the self and the Net. It is the sound of the 
subject-for-itself - the Limit at which capital fails. 

These accounts of Twenty Thousand Leagues and the Matrix 
trilogy are not intended as interpretations so much as observations 


of the negative space they leave behind in the shot bag of the world 
in which they were produced, circulated and consumed. Despite 
this common capacity of SF, there is no necessary relationship 
between Marxism and SF - although there has always been a 
close one. The 'most important figures in the development of 
Anglophone SF ... between the mid 1880s and the beginning of 
the First World War - Edward Bellamy, William Morris, H.G. 
Wells and Jack London - were all socialists', 57 a trend continued 
in the UK through the mid-century writers Olaf Stapledon and 
George Orwell, the various leftists and anarchists associated with 
Michael Moorcock's New Worlds magazine in the 1960s and 
1970s, and current writers such as Iain M. Banks, Gwyneth Jones, 
Ken MacLeod and China Mieville. In the US in the late 1930s 
and 1940s, the New York-based SF fan group, the Futurians, 
were often just as concerned with radical politics, and included 
in their number major writers of the next two or three decades 
(Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Damon Knight, Cyril M. Kornbluth, 
Judith Merril, Frederik Pohl); later writers of note include Samuel 
R. Delany, L. Timmel Duchamp, Eric Flint, Ursula K. Le Guin, 
Marge Piercy, Mack Reynolds, Kim Stanley Robinson and Joanna 
Russ. 58 Moreover, from the emergence of SF studies as an academic 
discipline in the 1970s, Marxism has provided a major critical- 
theoretical lens through which to understand the genre. 

By the late 1960s, less than a dozen critical books on SF, including 
collections of essays and reviews by Blish and Knight, had been 
published in the US. There had also been letters, editorials and 
reviews in the SF magazines, and critical commentary in fanzines, 
for over four decades, and, since 1959, the Newsletter of the 
Conference on Science fiction of the MLA, which became the 
journal Extrapolation. The Science Fiction Research Association 
and the Society for Utopian Studies were founded in 1 970 and 
1975, respectively. In the UK, the Science Fiction Foundation 
was founded (1971), and launched Foundation: The Review of 
Science Fiction (1972). 5 ' Tom Moylan, reflecting on the 'political 
and intellectual milieu' of this period, sees it as one in which 
'democratic opposition to the system of postwar capitalism and 
contending superpower bureaucracies [was] relatively more 


substantial, and occupied greater "liberated zones" of praxis, 
before the ravages of counter-revolution in the 1980s'. 60 He 
describes a vast 'array of intellectual and cultural activity', from 
neighbourhood organisations and film societies to festivals and 
rock bands - and to universities, where 'inter-, cross- and transdis- 
ciplinary work in African-American, gay and lesbian, Third 
World, women's and other "Studies" programmes emerged as the 
intellectual and pedagogical dimension of the political struggles 
for self-determination'. 61 Curricula began to take greater account 
of popular culture. Leftist theory and criticism were reinvigorated, 
including 'a refunctioned critical Marxism, a new wave of Marxist 
or socialist feminism and gay and lesbian studies, the maturation 
of critical ecological studies, and expanding anti-, non- and post- 
Western scholarship'. 62 

This was the state of play when 'the Suvin event' occurred. 

December 1972 saw the appearance of Suvin's 'On the 
Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre' - later subsumed into his 
Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History 
of a Literary Genre (1979). In 1973, with R.D. Mullen, he 
launched and edited Science Fiction Studies, the most theoretically 
sophisticated of the SF journals, with strong Marxist and feminist 
tendencies. From that moment on, SF theory and criticism have 
inhabited - not by any means always contentedly - the Suvin 
event horizon, or attempted to escape it. 

Suvin argued that SF is the 'literature of cognitive estrangement', 
a 'literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are 
the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and 
whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative 
to the author's empirical environment' and which is 'distinguished 
by the narrative dominance or hegemony of a fictional "novum" 
(novelty, innovation) validated by cognitive logic'. 63 One might 
question the efficacy, even the possibility, of defining a genre. One 
might point to the many problems with Suvin's definition, such 
as its replication of Althusser's distinction between science and 
ideology, or its exclusion from the genre of many of the works 
popularly considered to be SF. One might argue, like Edward 
James, that ultimately it merely 'rephras[es] the stance of the past 


rather than establishing totally new grounds on which to base [SF] 
criticism' but does so in 'quite a different register' 64 (whether in 
terms of its angular and 'difficult' prose, imbued with European 
critical theory, or of the cultural capital it accrued when published 
in book form by Yale University Press). One might develop 
alternative approaches to the genre, such as H. Bruce Franklin's 
or John Rieder's explorations of SF's complicity in empire, or 
Delany's leftist post-structuralism, or Donna Haraway's ironic 
socialist-feminist thick descriptions of techno-scientific culture. 
One might, like Carl Freedman, even consider Suvin's definition 
as 'not only fundamentally sound but indispensable'. 65 However 
one responds to it, Suvin's definition (and its elaboration) itself 
arrived like a novum, reordering SF theory and criticism around 
it, idiosyncratically and contingently wedding SF to Marxism. 

The essays that follow wrestle, in various ways, with the Suvin 

Red Planets is divided into three sections: 'Things to Come', 'When 
Worlds Collide' and 'Back to the Future'. The first is concerned 
with the Utopian trace of Ernst Bloch's Not-Yet. Matthew 
Beaumont distinguishes two kinds of SF text - those set in other 
worlds and those in which another world intrudes into our own - 
which challenge our perception of the real without falling into the 
irrationalism typically associated with fantasy or horror. He pays 
particular attention to Ian Watson's 'Slow Birds' (1983), which is 
set in an alternate Earth into which elements of our own intrude and 
from which they return, occasionally bearing traces of this other 
Earth - a dialectical traffic that brings alterity into being. William 
J. Burling considers the representation of the work of art within 
Utopian SF from the perspective of social relations. The fictional 
arts in novels by Ursula K. Le Guin and Kim Stanley Robinson 
constitute a raise en abyme of the Utopian text's own struggle to 
imagine a world beyond capital. Carl Freedman contrasts film 
noir's deflationary tendency with SF's inflationary tendency as a 
kind of corollary of Marxism's intertwined project of analysing 
the logic of capital and struggling for revolutionary liberation. He 
focuses on SF's drive to transcend the mundane empirical norm, 


to uncover the richness and depth of reality beyond constraint, 
drawing out the (often critically suppressed) visionary tradition 
out of which SF has grown within the Suvinian paradigm. John 
Rieder contests Freedman's influential argument that the tension 
between literary SF's cognitive estrangement and cinematic SF's 
spectacle renders cinematic SF 'intrinsically impossible'. 66 While 
Until the End of the World (Wenders, 1991) both elaborates and 
succumbs to this tension, he argues, its mapping of colonialist and 
anti-colonialist discourses onto this fracture functions to critique 
SF's complicity in colonialism, while opening the prospect of a 
future beyond it. 

'When Worlds Collide' points towards Haraway's contention 
that SF is good for thinking with, bringing SF texts and Marxist 
theory into collision so as to help us conceptualise, and act within, 
the current conjuncture. Steven Shaviro examines recent SF about 
life after the Singularity - the supposedly imminent moment in 
which the line charting technological progress goes vertically 
off the graph. Considering the work of futurists such as Ray 
Kurzweil and Hans Moravec alongside Charles Stross's novel 
Accelerando (2005), he suggests the extent to which this 'rapture 
of the nerds' is a fantasy of capital, and that the Singularity might 
already have happened. Sherryl Vint treats SF prose fiction not 
in terms of traditional literary study, but as a core component 
of the western technological imaginary. Inspired by Cordwainer 
Smith's stories about animals engineered into sentience but denied 
human status, and drawing upon work from the emerging inter- 
discipline of animal studies, she uses SF to reconsider the labour 
theory of value. While the concept of 'animal labour power' is 
a non sequitur in orthodox classical Marxism, Smith's stories 
demonstrate that Marx's concept of labour is based upon a 
speciesism that contemporary science is increasingly calling into 
question. Recognition of the labour power and alienation of 
animals as well as humans, and of the social relations that we 
share, points to political allegiances necessary in the ongoing 
global extinction event and to a route out of our alienation from 
nature. Phillip Wegner analyses the complex formal and thematic 
structure of Ken MacLeod's Fall Revolution quartet (1995-99), 


which is organised so as to render impossible final judgements on 
the actions it depicts and to demonstrate that foreknowledge of 
consequences is impossible. He reads these novels - and the period 
of their composition, between the fall of the Berlin wall and the 
fall of the twin towers - in terms of Georg Lukacs's Augenblick: 
that is, the moment that is open to revolutionary action, whose 
very existence demonstrates that things do not need to turn out 
the way that they did, and which demands that we act as if the 
Not- Yet could arrive, enter history, transform the world. 

'Back to the Future' returns us to the Suvin event, suggesting 
that SF studies could be very different to the SF studies we have. 
Iris Luppa considers critical reactions in Weimar Germany to 
the SF films of the period, especially Fritz Lang's Frau im Mond 
(1929), which most leftist critics dismissed as a sentimental 
potboiler betraying its own rational, Utopian, technological 
imaginary. Greater attention to its popularity, and to the popular 
culture it exemplifies and self-reflexively represents, might have 
enabled more fruitful interactions between the intellectuals and 
the masses with whom they needed to ally. For those familiar 
with Suvin's Metamorphoses (which does not really consider any 
twentieth-century writers to emerge from the American pulp and 
paperback tradition) and the Marxist canon of 'critical Utopians' 67 
(Delany, Le Guin, Piercy, Russ) that emerged in the 1970s, this 
situation is extremely resonant. Rob Latham maps the more- 
or-less simultaneous emergence of Marxist geography and New 
Wave visions of the future city. He shows how the contradictions 
of Thomas M. Disch's 334 (1972) reveal the dystopianism of 
the 'empirically' real world from which the SF text is supposed 
to distinguish itself. SF's ability to think about the same kind of 
urban spaces and problems analysed by David Harvey and Manuel 
Castells suggests a potential dialogue that Marxist criticism never 
pursued. Darren Jorgensen, engaging more directly with 1970s 
Marxist SF theory and criticism, argues that it is haunted by - and 
predicated upon - the failures of May 1968 that are evident in 
the canonisation of Philip K. Dick and Ursula Le Guin and in the 
SF theory of Suvin and Jameson. Considering a pair of Jameson's 
essays on these authors that were central to the development of SF 


studies in the 1970s (and which appeared in a journal edited by 
Suvin), he argues that a more radical understanding of SF - one 
capable of aiding the development of revolutionary consciousness 
- would have emerged from the 'scientific Marxism' of Louis 
Althusser (against which Jameson argued in his The Political 
Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (1981)). He 
contends that we need to reconnect with revolutionary struggle, 
to re-imagine what we do in terms of revolutionary experience 
and possibility, rather than of failure. Andrew Milner locates the 
Suvin event within its specific historical conjuncture, exposing the 
logic of its prescriptions and opening up the tensions between the 
two halves of Suvin's Metamorphoses - the poetics and the history 
of SF. Drawing on Raymond Williams' concepts of 'selective 
tradition' and 'structure of feeling', he urges Marxist critics to 
turn to SF as it exists in the world and is commonly experienced 
across a range of media. 

Some speculate that, if one could plunge through the heart of 
a black hole, one might emerge in a different universe. Rather 
than trying to escape the Suvin event horizon, China Mieville's 
afterword pursues Suvin's logic with utter fidelity, just to see where 
it might take us. 

The editors would like to thank their contributors and other 
comrades who have always welcomed, with great generosity, our 
engagements with both Marxism and SF. Special thanks to John 
Newsinger, who gave us a title. 


1. In Hugo Gernsback's editorial introduction to the first issue of the 
American pulp SF magazine, Amazing Stories (April 1926). 

2. For a sense of the range of forms of SF, see the opening section of 
Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts and Sherryl Vint, eds, 
The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction (London: Routledge, 

3. See Mimi Hall, 'Sci-fi writers join war on terror', USA Today 29. 
Available at 
thinkers-security_N.htm (accessed 7 January 2009). 


4. Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called 
Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London: Verso, 2005), 
pp. 384-5. 

5. Ibid., p. 384. 

6. Fredric Jameson, 'Notes on Globalization as a Philosophical Issue', 
in Fredric Jameson and Masao Miyoshi, eds, The Cultures of 
Globalization (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998), p. 54. 

7. John Rieder's Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction 
(Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2008) outlines what is 
involved in the emergence of a genre and lays to rest the distracting 
notion of a single, originating text (pp. 15-21). 

8. H.G. Wells, 'The Rediscovery of the Unique'. Available at http;// (accessed 18 July 2008). 

9. Pierre Macherey, A Theory of Literary Production, transl. Geoffrey 
Wall (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986), p. 166. 

10. Timothy Unwin, 'The Fiction of Science, or the Science of Fiction', in 
Edmund Smyth, ed., Jules Verne: Narratives of Modernity (Liverpool: 
Liverpool University Press, 2000), p. 46. 

1 1 . Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics 
and History of a Literary Genre (New Haven: Yale University Press, 
1979), p. 150. 

12. Marc Angenot, 'Jules Verne: The Last Happy Utopianist', in Patrick 
Parrinder, ed., Science Fiction: A Critical Guide (London: Longman, 
1979), p. 19. 

13. Suvin, Metamorphoses, p. 153. 

14. Angenot, 'Jules Verne', p. 25. 

15. Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas, transl. William 
Butcher (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 6, 7. 

16. Jameson, 'Notes on Globalization', pp. 56-7. 

17. Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues, pp. 67-8. 

18. Jameson, 'Notes on Globalization', p. 57. 

19. Martin Willis, Mesmerists, Monsters, and Machines: Science Fiction 
and the Cultures of Science in the Nineteenth Century (Kent: Kent 
State University Press, 2006), p. 144. 

20. Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues, pp. 10, 11, 15. 

21. Ibid., p. 62. 

22. Ibid., pp. 62, 63, 153,177. 

23. Ibid., pp. 68, 121. 

24. Verne's publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel, vetoed casting Nemo as a 
Polish nobleman who had lost family, friends and nation to Russian 
despotism, but the novel retains traces.-of this -sentiment; as weir as 
of similar anti-Americanj anti-Austrian, anti-British and anti-Turkish 


feeling. The Mysterious Island ( 1 874-75) construes Nemo as a victim 
of British imperialism in India. 

25. Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues, p. 206. 

26. Ibid., p. 87. 

27. John Rieder, Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction 
(Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2008), p. 28. 

28. Jameson, 'Notes on Globalization', p. 56. 

29. Sherryl Vint and Mark Bould, 'All That Melts Into Air Is Solid: 
Rematerialising Capital in Cube and Videodrome\ Socialism and 
Democracy 42 (2006), pp. 218. 

30. Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues, p. 54. 

31. Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues, p. 120. This is also part of 
the novel's proto-ecological sensibility: Aronnax refers to an 
'inexhaustible' nature 'beyond man's destructive bent', but is 
gradually persuaded otherwise by Nemo's refusal to hunt whales 
(p. 287) or walruses (p. 308) for sport; Aronnax notes geothermal 
cooling across geological timescales (p. 240), but also that the Gulf 
Stream is believed to be changing 'speed and direction' on a historical 
timescale, with 'changes of an unforeseeable nature' for 'the climate 
of Europe' (p. 349). 

32. Willis, Mesmerists, p. 157. 

33. Ibid., p. 154. 

34. Indeed, his supposed ambition 'to summarise all the knowledge 
- geographical, geological, physical, astronomical - accumulated by 
modern science, and to recast in an appropriate form, the history of 
the universe' was even formulated in the ballyhoo with which his 
publisher prefaced the first volume of Verne's complete works (see 
Macherey, Theory of Literary Production, p. 163). 

35. See, for example, Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues, pp. 74, 75, 
115, 189, 192-5, 202, 305, 309. 

36. Ibid., pp. 350, 304. 

37. David McNally, Bodies of Meaning: Studies on Language, Labor, 
and Liberation (New York: SUNY Press, 2001), p. 1. 

38. Manuel Castells, The Information Age: Economy, Society and 
Culture, Volume I: The Rise of the Network Society, second edn 
(Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), p. 3. 

39. Castells, Information Age, pp. 101, 131. 

40. Ibid., pp. 506, 476; italics in original. 

41. Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues, p. 56. 

42. Ibid., p. 79. 

43. Ibid., p. 163. Macherey's description of this dialectical process of 
winning 'rectitude' from 'a radical diversity' (Theory of Literary 
Production, p. 182) resonates with the 'standardization on an 


unparalleled new scale' that Jameson associates with the consolidation 
of the world market ('Notes on Globalization', p. 57). 

44. Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues, p. 212. 

45. Cited in Macherey, Theory of Literary Production, p. 167. 

46. Jules Verne, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, transl. William 
Butcher (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 146. 

47. Karl Marx, Grundrisse (New York: Vintage, 1973), pp. 410-11, 
421; italics in original. 

48. Michael A. Lebowitz, Beyond Capital: Marx's Political Economy 
of the Working Class, second edn (Houndmills: Macmillan, 2003), 
p. 13. 

49. Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days, transl. William 
Butcher (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 32. 

50. Jameson, 'Notes on Globalization', p. 66. 

51. Arguably, the presence of Cornel West - as Councillor West in the 
sequels and on DVD commentaries - similarly functions as a celebrity 
endorsement for certain market segments, just as Susie Bright did 
for Bound (Wachowski brothers, 1996). 

52. Alondra Nelson, 'Introduction: Future Texts', Social Text 71 (2002), 
p. 1. 

53. Slavoj 2izek, 'Multiculturalism, Or, the Cultural Logic of 
Multinational Capitalism', New Left Review 225 (1997). Available 
at (accessed 27 July 2008). 

54. Jameson, Archaeologies, pp. 320, 323, 70. 

55. On such 'postmodern allegories', see Brian McHale, Postmodernist 
Fiction (London: Methuen, 1987). 

56. iizek, 'Multiculturalism'. 

57. Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., 'Marxist Theory and Science Fiction', 
in Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn, eds, The Cambridge 
Companion to Science Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University 
Press, 2003), p. 114. 

58. For a more detailed account, see William J. Burling, 'Marxism', in 
Bould et al., Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, pp. 236-45. 

59. See Edward James, 'Before the Novum: The Prehistory of Science 
Fiction Criticism', in Patrick Parrinder, ed., Learning from Other 
Worlds: Estrangement, Cognition, and the Politics of Science 
Fiction and Utopia (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000), 
pp. 19-35. 

60. Tom Moylan. '"Look into the dark": On Dystopia and the Novum', 
in Parrinder, Learning from Other Worlds, p. 51. 

61. Ibid. 

62. Ibid., p. 52. 

63. Suvin, Metamorphoses, pp. 4, 7-8, 63. 


64. James, 'Before the Novum', pp. 32, 33. 

65. Carl Freedman, Critical Theory and Science Fiction (Hanover: 
Wesleyan University Press, 2000), p. 17. Freedman goes on to offer 
a major corrective to Suvin's definition, shifting its emphasis from 
cognition to the text's 'cognition effect'. 

66. Carl Freedman, 'On Kubrick's 2001 : Form and Ideology in Science- 
Fiction Cinema', in Freedman, The Incomplete Projects: Marxism, 
Modernity, and the Politics of Culture (Middletown: Wesleyan 
University Press, 2002), p. 111. 

67. See Tom Moylan, Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the 
Utopian Imagination (London: Methuen, 1987). 


Things to Come 



Matthew Beaumont 

Linear Perspective is a machine for annihilating reality, an infernal yawn that 
swallows everything wherein the vanishing-point functions. Conversely, 
reverse perspective, like a fountain of reality spurting into the world, serves 
to generate reality, extract it from non-being and advance it into reality. 

Pavel Florensky 1 

Perhaps the most famous UFO to appear in the history of European 
painting is the saucer-shaped object that slices silently across the 
pictorial space of 'The Ambassadors' (1533). Hans Holbein the 
Younger's double portrait of Jean de Dinteville and Georges 
de Selve is a meditation on the intellectual and artistic accom- 
plishments of Europe in an epoch of imperial expansion. The 
luxuriously robed table at the centre of the composition, framed by 
the casually posed forms of the French ambassadors themselves, is 
artfully heaped with exquisite objects pertaining to the disciplines 
of geometry, astronomy, mathematics and music. The instruments 
of enlightenment that are at once understatedly and ostentatiously 
displayed in this picture - the terrestrial and celestial globes, for 
example - are thus also the instruments of colonial domination. 
Holbein's tableau is a complicated, perhaps contradictory 
celebration of the apparently unassailable cultural authority that 
these Catholic statesmen embody. It emanates a sense of calm, 
almost sanctimonious command that discreetly conceals the messier 
economic and political premises of this cultural authority, even as 
it ultimately advertises them. Holbein sublimates the ambassadors' 



Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve ('The Ambassadors'), 
by Hans Holbein the Younger (© The National Gallery) 

power in the familiar double sense of both elevating or exalting it 
and making it seem socially acceptable. 

The surface of the portrait participates in this process of 
signification, deploying the comparatively recent techniques of oil 
painting both to spiritualise the objects it depicts and to emphasise 
their materiality. Holbein's reproduction of the different textures 
that define these objects, which enables the spectator to appraise 
them sensuously as well as visually, mimes the combination of 
expensive materials and specialist, skilled labour that comprises 
them, and thus represents their status as commodities. As John 
Berger points out, in the sixteenth century the increasingly popular 
techniques of oil painting publicised the emergence of capital 
accumulation, 'which was dynamic and which found its only 


sanction in the supreme buying power of money'; oil paintings 
therefore 'had to be able to demonstrate the desirability of what 
money could buy'. 2 Of course, in addition to demonstrating 
that the objects they depicted were commodities, oil paintings 
increasingly advertised themselves as commodities. The richly 
delicate surfaces of the scientific and artistic instruments exhibited 
on the table are contained and comprehended by the richly 
delicate surface of the composition itself. Insofar as it implicitly 
insists on a formal analogy between these instruments and the 
ornamented, framed oak board on which they are painted, 'The 
Ambassadors' therefore also insists on a material analogy. It 
celebrates the commodity status of painting itself at the same time 
as it claims that painting is the supreme medium for sanctifying 
the accoutrements of secular authority. 

So Holbein identifies the spectator standing before this 
portrait as someone for whom the consecrated objects soliciting 
attention from the centre of the composition, and the cultural 
values inscribed in them, are in the end purchasable, possessable 
commodities. 'The Ambassadors' is, then, an allegorical painting 
about the spectator's accumulation, in the epoch of nascent 
capitalism, of what Pierre Bourdieu called 'symbolic capital' - if 
this formulation is understood to mean 'economic or political 
capital that is disavowed, misrecognized and therefore recognized, 
hence legitimate, a "credit" which, under certain conditions, 
and always in the long run, guarantees "economic" profits'. 3 
It dramatises the dialectical relationship between symbolic and 
economic capital whereby each appears to be the precondition 
of the other. And it does so partly through the spectator's identi- 
fication with Dinteville and Selve: the spectator stands opposite 
the table situated between them, so as to complete a triangular 
relationship that institutionalises inclusion in the social sphere 
that they occupy and to which the spectator aspires. Their coolly 
inclusive gaze, both seductive and faintly defiant, reinforces the 
sense that the spectator is a tolerated presence in this sphere. 
Holbein's painstaking reconstruction of the three-dimensional 
space inhabited by the ambassadors - which is based on an 
elaborate application of perspective, as the geometric patterns 


on the mosaic floor most obviously indicate - also contributes to 
this process of identification, because it extends to the spectator 
the sense of effortless command that these statesmen emblematise. 
In the virtual space mapped out by this composition the spectator 
is transmuted into a proprietor potentially in command of its 
constituent objects. The painting thus 'recruits' the spectator, to 
put it in Althusserian terms, transforming the individual into a 
subject. 4 Specifically, it transforms the spectator into a bourgeois 
subject (in contradistinction, for instance, to a christian one). 

To pursue this interpretation is of course to ignore the most 
striking element of the portrait: the alien image that slides across 
the picture's surface and inauspiciously ruptures its perspective. 
Bruno Latour vividly describes its distortive impact on the 
spectator's relationship to the painting: 

If the attendants at the National Gallery of London allow you to kneel down 
at the painting's left side, your face as if touching the varnished pigment, 
this unidentified flying object will appear to be a skull - the accepted symbol 
of the many memento mori painted at the time. But then, how will the 
fiery Ambassadors appear? As a grotesque and distorted medley of bright 
and meaningless shapes. If the Ambassadors are straightened up, the skull 
is skewed. If the skull is rectified, the two Frenchmen are slanted, fleeing 
away like flying saucers. 5 

The image of the skull introduces into the composition an optic 
that is incompatible with that of the stable spectator constructed 
by the laws of perspective: to reconfigure the incomprehensi- 
ble image as one that is mimetic of a recognisable object, the 
spectator must scrutinise it from an angle that violently disfigures 
the ambassadors and the instruments that symbolise their 
achievements. In forcing the spectator into this contorted, almost 
abject posture, Holbein deliberately undermines the illusion of 
solid, three-dimensional reality that he has so carefully organised. 
The composition is dramatically decomposed and its ideological 
premises - in particular the assumption that the economic and 
symbolic forms of capital it depicts can in some uncomplicated 
sense be claimed or attained - are completely upset. From this 
perspective, reality itself appears as a smear. 


The death's head thus makes the cultural and political ambition 
to which the spectator had initially accommodated himself 
seem meaningless. It does so not by emblematically reminding 
the spectator of death, as in the conventional inclusion of a 
memento mori (the ornament on Dinteville's hat does this, but 
the abstractness, and hence inadequateness, of its allusion to death 
is underlined by its near-imperceptibility). Instead, the skull that 
slants across the surface of Holbein's painting aggressively defa- 
miliarises and radicalises the tradition of the memento mori. Its 
superficial abstraction is in fact an index of its concreteness, its 
almost excessive immediacy. It introduces the idea of death at the 
level of form rather than content. The spectator is forced physically 
to transform, even to abase, herself in the face of this death's 
head. Rather than communicate death's dominion algebraically, 
deploying a traditional emblem drained of signification, Holbein 
communicates it poetically, as Victor Shklovsky might have put it, 
by inscribing it on the spectator's body. 6 The monstrous, distorted 
skull does not so much represent as enact death's ontological 
interruption of life. 

The perspectival device so adventurously used by Holbein to 
distort the death's head in 'The Ambassadors' has since the early 
seventeenth century been known as anamorphosis (from the 
Greek meaning to 'form again' or 'transform'). Jurgis Baltrusaitis 
emphasises its philosophical as well as optical importance for the 
history of representation: 

Anamorphosis ... plays havoc with elements and principles; instead of 
reducing forms to their visible limits, it projects them outside themselves 
and distorts them so that when viewed from a certain point they return 
to normal. The system was established as a technical curiosity, but it 
embraces a poetry of abstraction, an effective mechanism for producing 
optical illusion and a philosophy of false reality. 7 

It is as a philosophy of false reality, or, more precisely, a poetics 
of alternative realities, that anamorphosis interests me. An 
anamorphic image posits the coded presence of an almost 
unimaginable reality that momentarily obtrudes on ideologically 
constituted reality, thereby rendering it arbitrary, ontologically 


inconsistent. Holbein's skull, for example, is metonymic of a 
domain in which the commodities that advertise the ambassadors' 
economic, political and symbolic capital have neither exchange- 
value nor use-value. From an anamorphic perspective, the 
empirical reality so painstakingly reconstructed in this painting 
is emptied of signification and forced to compete with an almost 
completely incompatible alternative that threatens to be even 
more compelling. The effect of anamorphosis, philosophically 
speaking, is therefore that of extreme relativisation. Anamorphic 
perspective radically subjectifies the act of seeing, and so exposes 
the fact that linear perspective, dependent on the notion that there 
is one, motionless point from which the subject can adequately 
perceive the object, is far from objective. Anamorphosis is an 
immanent critique of perspective, creating what Daniel Collins 
calls an 'eccentric observer', a spectator whose dynamic, tangential 
relationship to the picture plane undermines 'those one-eyed 
regimes built upon singular assumptions about the proper point 
of view'. 8 It demonstrates that the dominant perception of reality 
is not natural but cultural; and this, potentially, is politically 
enabling, because it reveals that reality can be altered. 

Anamorphosis was first employed as a pictorial effect in the 
early sixteenth century, by both Erhard Schon, a student of 
Albrecht Diirer, and Holbein - although in the late fifteenth 
century Leonardo da Vinci had in his notebooks described 
anamorphic deformations of perspective. It became a particularly 
modish form of optical experimentation from the mid seventeenth 
century, when cylindrical mirrors and other catoptric devices 
were popularly used to create its characteristic effects. Jean- 
Francois Niceron, adopting Gaspar Schott's neologism, theorised 
anamorphosis in La Perspective curieuse (1638), defining 
instances of it as 'figures belonging to normal vision and which, 
away from the predetermined view-point, seem distorted and 
nonsensical, but seen from the proper view-point will appear 
correctly proportioned'. 9 Niceron and his associates at the French 
convent in Rome also explored its metaphysical implications, 
using anamorphic representations to interpret 'the hidden spiritual 
order of God's creation, which to the casual eye merely seems a 


chaos of disparate forms'. 10 Thereafter, anamorphosis appeared 
as little more than an artistic curiosity, an archaic technical device 
for producing amusing optical illusions. 

However, this process of prettification was significantly 
challenged by avant-gardists in the early twentieth century. The 
surrealists, whose 'fondness' for 'The Ambassadors' has been 
documented," implicitly restored the political dimension of 
anamorphosis in the 1920s. Surrealist artists effectively questioned 
the Cartesian assumption that there can be a 'proper view-point', 
and so emphasised that anamorphosis is only an extreme example 
of the arbitrariness of perspectival rules. 12 For example, the violent 
distortions of Salvador DalPs Baigneuse (1928) dramatise the 
impossibility of arriving at a supposedly rational or objective 
representation of reality. Arguably, this surrealist reclamation 
of anamorphic forms prompted the resuscitation, in the last 
half-century, of the concept of anamorphosis in the context of 
philosophical discourse about the subject. In the 1970s, Jacques 
Lacan - a friend of Dali and in some senses himself a surrealist 

- and Jean-Francois Lyotard, influenced by the publication of 
BaltruSaitis' monograph about anamorphic art, which had 
appeared in Paris in 1955, produced books that used 'The 
Ambassadors' for the cover. 13 Lyotard's Discours, Figure (1971), 
which discusses the painting as an exemplum of his thesis that the 
representational planes of paintings are necessarily non-identical 
to themselves, reproduced a detail of the anamorphic skull in its 
1 978 second edition. 14 Lacan's The Four Fundamental Concepts of 
Psychoanalysis (1973), which directly compares this skull to 'Dali's 
soft watches', reproduced the image in its entirety and argued that 
Holbein uses the anamorphic perspective of the 'gaze', identified 
with objet a, to make visible 'the subject as annihilated'. 15 

More recently, this thesis has been elaborated by Slavoj 2izek 
in relation to the Lacanian concept of the 'Real'. He emphasises, 
for example, that the anamorphic stain on the surface of 'The 
Ambassadors' upsets the spectator's neutral pose, 'pinning [the 
spectator] to the observed object itself: 'This is the point at which 
the observer is already included, inscribed in the observed scene 

- in a way, it is the point from which the picture itself looks 


back at us'. 16 I do not propose to reconstruct these positions 
in further detail, but silently to lean on them to the extent that 
they can illuminate the logic of estrangement characteristic of 
anamorphosis. For my hypothesis is that, in SF, the represen- 
tation or inclusion of the alien other functions as a kind of 
anamorphic stain. The novum, so to speak, constitutes the point 
from which the SF text looks back at us, radically estranging 
our empirical, social environment and revealing its arbitrariness, 
its basic fungibility. 

In order to historicise this claim that the defamiliarising devices 
characteristic of SF are equivalent to anamorphosis, it is necessary 
briefly to revisit 'The Ambassadors' through Stephen Greenblatt's 
interpretation of it in relation to Thomas More's Utopia (1516). 
Greenblatt argues that the portrait, painted half a decade after 
More had ceased to be Holbein's official patron, though from 
inside precisely the same social milieu, 'plunges us, with the 
sensuous immediacy and simultaneity that only a painting can 
achieve, into the full complexity of More's estrangement', and 
that it is formally analogous to Utopia because, in the shape of its 
anamorphic stain, and the esophoric perspective that it actualises, 
it creates a 'non-place' from which 'normal vision' is rendered 
impossible. This non-place, like the non-place that is the island of 
Utopia, reaches out and touches 'phenomenal reality, infecting it 
with its own alienation'. 17 The narrative displacements of More's 
book - more complicated than its division into halves implies 
- are thus the textual equivalent of those shifts in perspective that 
reinvent the act of representation in Holbein's painting: 

Like 'The Ambassadors', Utopia presents two distinct worlds that occupy 
the same textual space while insisting upon the impossibility of their doing 
so. We can neither separate them entirely nor bring them into accord, so 
that the intellectual gratification of radical discontinuity is as impossible 
to achieve as the pleasure of wholly integrated form. 18 

This dialectical relationship between 'two distinct worlds', I 
propose, also typifies SF's textual dynamics. 

No doubt it is too simplistic to posit Utopia as the point of 
origin of SF, as of Utopian fiction itself, but its importance to the 


emergence of the genre cannot be overstated. As the totalising 
attempt to imagine a perfectible society that implicitly or 
explicitly exposes the limits of the empirical present, Utopian 
fiction probably takes precedence over competing literary forms 
- fairytales, classical myths, earthly paradises, folk stories 
about cockaigne, extraordinary voyages, millenarian fantasies, 
philosophical dialogues, technological blueprints, political 
manifestoes and satires, in addition to comparatively recent 
inventions like historical novels and gothic fictions - that helped 
create the preconditions for the appearance of SF as a singular 
phenomenon at the end of the nineteenth century. The social vision 
characteristic of Utopian fiction, like that of SF, is the imaginative 
product of an epoch in which it is at least technically possible to 
conceptualise society, for all its contradictions, as a totality. 'It 
is precisely this category of totality that presides over the forms 
of Utopian realization', Fredric Jameson announces (assimilating 
SF to the notion of a Utopian realisation). 19 The possible worlds 
devised by the older, cognate formal archetypes catalogued above 
are, by comparison, piecemeal. 

From its inception in the early sixteenth century, Utopia is 
imprinted by the character of capitalism, to the extent that this 
social formation, in contrast to feudalism, is itself increasingly 
totalising. 'Utopic discourse makes its appearance historically only 
when a mode of capitalist production is formed', Louis Marin 
states (though he seems to conceive of capitalism as an event 
rather than a process). 20 The advent of capitalism, in spite of its 
fitful, uneven development, provides the fundamental conditions 
of possibility for the Utopian form, which defamiliarises society 
insofar as it is able to totalise it and totalises it insofar as it is 
able to defamiliarise it. In the dream of Utopian communism 
that shapes Utopia, More universalises the class position of 
small independent producers who were relatively detached from 
the decline of feudalism, and therefore acutely conscious of 
its effects. 21 The ideal model of society that More constructed 
consequently appeared to an unprecedented extent as a totality 
apprehended as if from the outside. It is this emphasis on totality, 
enabled by the articulation of two distinct worlds occupying the 


same textual space, that makes Utopian fiction the most important 
precursor to SF. 

The doubled, dialectical perspective that defines both these 
forms constitutes a challenge to the singular, integrative 
perspective of realism, an aesthetic that evolved initially in 
painting and then in literature. Realism - the development of 
which was inseparable from the rise of Renaissance humanism, 
and especially its intellectual commitment to understanding 
history as a continuous process - is linear and chronological 
in its approach to representation. It unifies time and space. As 
Elizabeth Ermarth argues, 'fictional realism is an aesthetic form 
of consensus, its touchstone being the agreement between the 
various viewpoints made available by a text'. 22 Realist literature 
constructs its reader as the site at which this consensus about what 
can be identified as objective, in fictional terms, is imaginatively 
coordinated; and in this respect it is like realist painting, which 
exploits perspective to position the spectator at the point at which 
it is possible to achieve an illusion of objectivity. In both cases, the 
apparent selfsameness of the empirical world is reinforced. 'The 
consensus of realism', Ermarth continues, 'produces in literature a 
rationalization of consciousness analogous to the rationalization 
of sight evident in realistic painting'. 23 Utopian fiction and SF, 
which are themselves of course partially predicated on this realist 
consensus, nonetheless complicate it, more or less effectively, by 
introducing an anamorphic perspective. If Utopia 'both uses and 
abandons techniques proper to realism' 2 '' at the moment of its 
emergence, then so does the tradition of SF that descends from 
it. SF, which enters its formative phase in the late nineteenth 
century, as the realist aesthetic atrophies, undoubtedly relies on its 
techniques for rationalising consciousness; in addition, though, it 
de-rationalises consciousness. It uses the anamorphic perspective 
inscribed in its representation of other times, other spaces, to de- 
realise this time, this space. 

How then do anamorphic estrangements function in SF? 
Anamorphosis generally assumes two different forms in the 
history of painting, and this distinction is reproduced in SF. In 
the more common form, the entire composition is anamorphic 


- as in Niceron's experiments in perspective, which effectively 
involved taking an image in the shape of a square and re-plotting 
its coordinates in the shape of a trapezoid. This composition can 
be identified as an anamorphosis. In the less common form, the 
composition is dominated by linear perspective but incorporates 
one anomalous, anamorphic image - as in 'The Ambassadors'. This 
image, as a component of the composition, can be identified as an 
anamorph. The distinction roughly corresponds to the difference 
between SF set excusively (or almost exclusively) in an 'unfamiliar' 
or irrealist world and SF set in a 'familiar' or realist world that 
nonetheless contains traces of an ineluctable otherness. 

This schema might be clarified in relation to Darko Suvin's 
influential concept of the novum: 

One should say that the necessary correlate of the novum is an alternative 
reality, one that possesses a different historical time corresponding to 
different human relationships and sociocultural norms actualized by the 
narration. This new reality overtly or tacitly presupposes the existence 
of the author's empirical reality, since it can be gauged and understood 
only as the empirical reality modified in such-and-such ways.... [SF's] 
specific modality of existence is a feedback oscillation that moves from the 
author's and implied reader's norm of reality to the narratively actualized 
novum in order to understand the plot-events, and now back from those 
novelties to the author's reality, in order to see it afresh from the new 
perspective gained." 

This passage vividly sketches the defamiliarisation device that 
is characteristic of SF. It fails, however, to discriminate carefully 
enough between a novum that overtly 'presupposes the existence 
of the author's empirical reality' and one that does so 'tacitly'. In 
the terms that I am adumbrating, the former is an anamorph (the 
author's empirical reality is explicitly present in the text, and the 
novum is the presence of an alternative reality embedded in it) and 
the latter an anamorphosis (the novum is the alternative reality 
portrayed by the text, and the author's empirical reality, which it 
more or less systematically distorts, is only implicitly present). 

This can be illustrated, preliminarily, through a simple 
comparison of two 'fantasias of possibility' 26 by H.G. Wells. 


When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), in which the protagonist falls 
into a cataleptic sleep in 1897 and comes to consciousness again 
in 2100, is set almost exclusively in an unfamiliar society. In 
this novel, the dystopian future that Wells composes, which is a 
systematic estrangement of the author's present, itself constitutes 
an anamorphosis. So the reader, processing that future from a 
realist perspective, is implicitly positioned in a skewed, defa- 
miliarising relationship to this present. In contrast, The War of 
the Worlds (1898), in which the protagonist narrates a Martian 
invasion of contemporary England, is set exclusively in a familiar 
society. However, the apocalyptic present that it depicts contains 
an anamorph in the form of the Martians themselves. These 
aliens - shapeless masses that 'heaved and pulsated convulsively' 
- are the anamorphic stain on Wells' portrait of fin-de-siecle 
England. 'Vital, intense, inhuman, crippled and monstrous', they 
are the element of the unheimlich excavated in England's so- 
called home counties. The Martians inspire 'disgust and dread' 
in the protagonist when he sees them creeping from 'the Thing' 
in which they have landed, and in an insane panic he attempts 
to make an escape - 'but I ran slantingly and stumbling', he 
reports, 'for I could not avert my face from these things'. 27 
That slanting movement, caused by an obscene fascination with 
the aliens, perfectly describes the anamorphic perspective that 
this archetypal science fiction instates. The reader's attempt to 
comprehend these aliens, like that of the protagonist, effects an 
estrangement of the novel's contemporaneous setting; and this 
estrangement is analogous to the violent decomposition of the 
ambassadors and the objects beside them that occurs when the 
spectator is compelled to reconfigure the image of the skull from 
the margins of Holbein's painting. 

Fredric Jameson has explored the spatial disjunction character- 
istic of A.E. van Vogt's narratives, in which the representations 
of 'two distinct spaces are like the juxtaposition of two sentences 
from utterances absolutely distinct and heterogeneous'. He 
offers the example of 'The Weapon Shop' (1942), in which the 
eponymous building appears abruptly in somebody's backyard 
one night; and he describes it in terms of 'the sudden intrusion, 


into normal everyday space, of a new object, whose inner volume 
does seem distinct from the outside world, but not yet altogether 
abnormally so'. 28 As an intrusion into everyday life that decisively 
estranges it, the shop is an anamorph. It is on such figures in SF 
that I finally want to focus in detail, emphasising in particular 
that, in spite of Jameson's description of 'the new object' in van 
Vogt's story as not completely abnormal, it generally assumes a 
more or less alien form. The inner volume of the anamorph, it 
might be said, has a habit of expanding, so that, even if its outer 
appearance does not dramatically alter, it finally incorporates 
'normal everyday space'. Like the 'Blochian Novum' defined by 
Carl Freedman, it 'is never a single new element inserted into an 
essentially unchanged mundane environment, but is instead such 
a radical novelty as to reconstitute the entire surrounding world 
and thus, in a sense, to create (though certainly not ex nihilo) 
a new world'. 29 Once internalised, the anamorphic perspective 
irrevocably transforms the normal. 

A good example of the spatial tension diagnosed by Jameson 
is Roadside Picnic (1972), by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, in 
which the Zone - its atmosphere toxic, its rough territory dotted 
by exotic, incomprehensible debris - is the site of an inexplicable 
alien visitation. Likened by one character to the polluted spot on 
which travellers randomly traversing the cosmos once carelessly 
picnicked, it is the novel's anamorph, and from the anamorphic 
perspective it sets up, the empirical reality portrayed by the 
Strugatskys is estranged. The relationship of these competing 
realities is that of contiguous spaces that, in Jameson's formulation, 
are absolutely distinct and heterogeneous. The Zone's inner 
volume, though, is apparently assimilating the outside world, 
almost imperceptibly, so that individuals living in its environs are 
susceptible to experiencing it existentially, as a kind of psychotic 
episode. In the following passage, Redrick, one of the stalkers who 
scavenges for the alien objects that lie scattered inside the Zone, 
seems suddenly to internalise its sheer otherness as he crosses a 
street to reach a hotel (as if he has suddenly stepped into one of 
Philip K. Dick's contemporaneous novels): 


He had never experienced anything like this before outside the Zone. And 
it had happened in the Zone only two or three times. It was as though he 
were in a different world. A million odors cascaded in on him at once - 
sharp, sweet, metallic, gentle, dangerous ones, as crude as cobblestones, as 
delicate and complex as watch mechanisms, as huge as a house and as tiny 
as a dust particle. The air became hard, it developed edges, surfaces, and 
corners, like space was filled with huge, stiff balloons, slippery pyramids, 
gigantic prickly crystals, and he had to push his way through it all, making 
his way in a dream through a junk-store stuffed with ancient ugly furniture 
... It lasted a second. He opened his eyes, and everything was gone. It hadn't 
been a different world - it was this world turning a new, unknown side to 
him. This side was revealed to him for a second and then disappeared, before 
he had time to figure it out. 30 

Here, it is not the stalker that is in the Zone, but the Zone that 
is in the stalker. Redrick momentarily glimpses 'this world' as it 
can be grasped from the anamorphic perspective of 'a different 
world'; and in this respect his hallucination allegorises the reader's 
experience of SF. The Zone, seen from the viewpoint of empirical 
reality that is embodied in the stalker's outer vision, is (to cite Wells' 
description of the invading Martians) 'vital, intense, inhuman, 
crippled and monstrous'. Conversely, empirical reality itself, seen 
from the viewpoint of the Zone that is realised in the stalker's 
inner vision, is vital, intense, inhuman, crippled and monstrous 
too. Holbein's anamorphic skull, which has these same irreducibly 
alien attributes, effects an equivalent transformation. From the 
perimetric point at which the stain on the composition seems com- 
prehensible, the normal everyday space of the ambassadors appears 
vitally, inhumanly, monstrously other, and the objects that fill it are 
metamorphosed into so much exotic, incomprehensible debris. 

I want to explore the operation of the SF anamorph in one 
final example. Ian Watson's 'Slow Birds', first published in The 
Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1983, is a political fable 
about the Cold War. It is set in an unfamiliar pastoral England that 
is implicitly parallel to the familiar, if highly technologised England 
that the author extrapolates from his empirical present. The rural 
landscape of this superficially idyllic England, which is shaped by 


an archipelago of pre-industrial villages, is on closer inspection 
scarified by lakes of glass that lie scattered across the plains (as 
if the setting of Hardy's bucolic novels has been subjected to the 
entropic processes portrayed in Ballard's apocalyptic novels). It 
is the sporadic explosion of so-called 'slow birds' that causes this 
creeping vitrification. Slow birds are unfathomable forms with 
tubular metal bodies that make sudden, random appearances, 
travelling at an almost infinitesimally slow pace and eventually 
either disappearing abruptly or exploding. Each slow bird that 
destroys itself leaves 'a flat, circular sheet of glass', 'a polarized 
limited zone of annihilation' (distantly recalling Roadside Picnic); 
and these sinister spaces consequently threaten to connect up, 
enveloping the entire landscape in a lifeless vitric substance. 31 It 
transpires that the mysterious floating phenomena nicknamed 
'slow birds' are nuclear Cruise missiles, deployed in a conflict 
between 'Russ and 'Merica. They have been diverted through 
this innocuous parallel universe because, characterised as it is 
by the extreme viscosity of its time and space, it enables them to 
evade being captured or neutralised. The slow birds thus 'ignore 
gravity', and 'dodge in and out of existence': 'They were something 
irrational, something from elsewhere'. 32 

The missiles, which with one exception remain inscrutable to 
the inhabitants of this landscape, are an anamorphic stain on this 
Constableseque England. Like the skull in Holbein's painting, 
these unidentified flying objects cast profound, penetrating 
shadows across the normal everyday space they traverse. They 
denote death of course; and the nuclear warhead is in this sense 
only an ancient death's head reconsituted in the peculiar socio- 
economic conditions of the late twentieth century. They also 
represent the anamorphic point from which the stabilities of 
this parallel, pre-industrial earth are undermined, and its pretty 
landscape is reconfigured, in a quietly, intermittently cataclysmic 
process, as an ugly smear. The unpredictable materialisation of 
the slow birds makes the ontological foundations of this society 
seem insubstantial. They are spectral - if spectrality, as Jameson 
has claimed, is 'what makes the present waver: like the vibrations 
of a heat wave through which the massiveness of the object world 


- indeed of matter itself - now shimmers like a mirage'. 33 But if on 
the one hand the fantastical, pastoral reality constructed for the 
reader threatens to die out because of the destruction gradually 
leaking from the author's empirical, hyper-industrial reality, then 
on the other hand the former promises to redeem the latter. At 
one point a child is maliciously strapped to one of the slow birds, 
and consequently disappears when it dematerialises; and it is 
this child who, on his reappearance, explains that in a parallel 
universe riven by war 'the missiles shunt to and fro through time'. 
He describes the world to which he has abruptly returned home 
as the 'other possibility-world', because it represents potential 
redemption. 'I brought them great hope, because it meant that 
all life isn't finished,' he says; 'Life can go on.' 34 If the missiles 
constitute an anamorph in the pastoral world, the child constitutes 
an anamorph in the hyper-industrial world. 

'Slow Birds' thus dramatises a double estrangement. Its setting is 
an anamorphosis in that it is an almost completely self-contained, 
more or less systematic distortion of the author's empirical reality; 
and it therefore performs an anamorphic defamiliarisation of this 
reality. But it also contains an anamorph, in the form of the missiles; 
and this anamorph therefore restores a sense of estrangement to 
the fantastical reality it depicts. At the same time, the missiles 
open up a portal. On its other side, in a symmetrical process, 
the world of the Cold War, 'a board game run by machines', 
is already anamorphically estranged. 35 And it too contains an 
anamorph, in the form of the child who accidentally slips from 
one time-space continuum into the other. So, in a complicated 
doubling of anamorphic perspectives, Watson brilliantly exploits 
the anamorph both as a dystopian figure and a Utopian one. If it is 
a death's head from one perspective, it is an emblem of redemptive 
life from another. For the reader of this narrative, who must 
imagine herself into the position in which she is in fact already 
situated - that is, a capitalist society torn apart by inter-imperial 
conflict - the child, as a kind of ana-anamorph ('like a fountain 
of reality spurting into the world', in Pavel Florensky's poetic 
formulation), 'serves to generate reality, extract it from non-being 
and advance it into reality'. 3 '' 



1. Pavel Florensky, 'Reverse Perspective', in Nicoletta Misler, ed., 
Beyond Vision: Essays on the Perception of Art (London: Reaktion, 
2002), p. 212. 

2. John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: BBC 8c Penguin Books, 1972), 
p. 91. 

3. Pierre Bourdieu, 'The Production of Belief: Contribution to an 
Economy of Symbolic Goods', in Randal Johnson, ed., The Field 
of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature (Cambridge: 
Polity, 1993), p. 75. 

4. Louis Althusser, 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes 
towards an Investigation', in Lenin and Philosophy and Other 
Essays, transl. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 
2001), p. 118. 

5. Bruno Latour, 'Opening One Eye While Closing the Other ... A Note 
on Some Religious Paintings', in Gordon Fyfe and John Law, eds, 
Picturing Power: Visual Depiction and Social Relations (London: 
Routledge, 1988), p. 16. 

6. Victor Shklovsky, 'Art as Technique', in Russian Formalist Criticism: 
Four Essays, transl. Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis (Lincoln: 
University of Nebraska Press, 1965), pp. 3-24. 

7. Jurgis Baltrusaitis, Anamorphic Art, transl. W.J. Strachan (Cambridge: 
Chadwyck-Healey, 1977), p. 1. 

8. Daniel L. Collins, 'Anamorphosis and the Eccentric Observer: 
Inverted Perspective and Construction of the Gaze', Leonardo 25: 
1 (1992), p. 77. 

9. Quoted in Baltrusaitis, Anamorphic Art, p. 1 64. 

10. Martin Kemp, The Science of Art: Optical Themes in Western Art 
from Brunelleschi to Seurat (New Haven: Yale University Press, 
1990), p. 211. 

11. Elizabeth Cowling, 'An Other Culture', in Dawn Ades, Dada and 
Surrealism Reviewed (London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1978), 
p. 460. 

12. I use the adjective 'Cartesian' advisedly. Lyle Massey complicated 
the presupposition, influentially articulated by Erwin Panofsky, 
that perspective is paradigmatic of Descartes' rationalism, in 
'Anamorphosis through Descartes or Perspective Gone Awry', 
Renaissance Quarterly 50 (1997), pp. 1148-89. 

13. See Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in 
Twentieth-Century French Thought (Berkeley: University of 
California Press, 1993), p. 48. 

14. Jean-Francois Lyotard, Discours, Figure (Paris: Editions Klincksieck, 
1978), pp. 376-9. 


15. Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 
transl. Alan Sheridan (London: Hogarth Press, 1977), p. 88. 

16. Slavoj iiiek, Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan 
through Popular Culture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991), p. 91. 

17. Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self- Fashioning from More to 
Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 21. 

18. Ibid., p. 22. 

19. Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called 
Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London: Verso, 2005), p. 5. 

20. Louis Marin, Utopics: Spatial Play, transl. Robert A. Vollrath (Atlantic 
Highlands: Humanities Press International, 1984), p. 198. 

2 1 . See Christopher Kendrick, 'More's Utopia and Uneven Development', 
boundary 2 13: 2/3 (1985), pp. 233-66. 

22. Elizabeth Deeds Ermarth, Realism and Consensus in the English 
Novel: Time, Space and Narrative, second edn (Edinburgh: Edinburgh 
University Press, 1998), pp. ix-x. 

23. Ibid., p. 4. 

24. Ibid., p. 13. 

25. Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics 
and History of a Literary Genre (New Haven: Yale University Press, 
1979), p. 71. 

26. H.G. Wells, When the Sleeper Wakes (London: Everyman, 1994), 
p. 3. 

27. H.G. Wells, War of the Worlds (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2005), 
pp. 21-2. 

28. Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future, pp. 321, 319. 

29. Carl Freedman, Critical Theory and Science Fiction (Hanover: 
Wesleyan University Press, 2000), p. 69. 

30. Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic, transl. Antonina 
W. Bouis (London: Victor Gollancz, 2007), p. 67. 

31 . Ian Watson, 'Slow Birds', in Slow Birds and Other Stories (London: 
Victor Gollancz, 1985), p. 12. I am grateful to Chris Marsh for 
pointing me to this text. 

32. Ibid., p. 28. 

33. Fredric Jameson, 'Marx's Purloined Letter', in Michael Sprinkler, ed., 
Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida's Specters 
of Marx (London: Verso, 1999), p. 38. 

34. Watson, 'Slow Birds', p. 32. 

35. Ibid., p. 32. 

36. Florensky, 'Reverse Perspective', p. 212. 



William J. Burling 

Yet it is in this kind of attention to precise material articulations - in which 
and only in which specific consciousness, specific feeling is realized - that the 
true social practice and analysis of art must begin. 

Raymond Williams' 

Utopian novelists since at least the late nineteenth century have 
been interested in what the function of the arts might be, what 
forms art might take and, by extension, what the role of the 
artists might be in Utopian society. Edward Bellamy and William 
Morris devoted considerable attention to the arts, and more 
recently Samuel R. Delany and Marge Piercy offer sophisticated, 
detailed representations of Utopian arts. Few critics, however, 
have considered this component of Utopian representation, despite 
artistic production standing in a privileged relationship to Utopian 
ontological issues. Indeed, Fredric Jameson observes that 'the 
test of the imaginative qualities of a given Utopian text' is its 
'capacity to imagine properly Utopian art works', and elsewhere 
remarks that 'the work of art within the work of art ... becomes 
the miniature glass in which Utopia's most glaring absences are 
thus reproduced with minute clarity'. 2 Neither Jameson nor any 
other Utopian theorist, however, has proposed a methodology for 
interpreting 'the miniature glass' in Utopian fiction. 

This essay outlines such a theoretical model, offering interpre- 
tations of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed (1974) and Kim 
Stanley Robinson's Blue Mars (1996). Le Guin's novel features 



two important concerns of her fiction which may be usefully 
extended to Utopian fiction in general: the implications of form 
and function of the arts in Utopia ( Utopian art); and the critical 
significance of art about Utopia - that is, the representation of the 
arts as a usefully revealing benchmark of Utopian fiction's latent, 
as opposed to manifest, ideological assumptions. 

Le Guin is perhaps the most persistent of all authors to explore 
the conditions, social function and meaning of artistic practice in 
Utopian SF. Novels and stories such as The Left Hand of Darkness 
(1969), 'The New Atlantis' (1975) and Always Coming Home 
(1985) exemplify her commitment to the centrality of the arts 
to meaningful human identity, both personal and collective. Her 
most complex and conflicted Utopian meditation, however, is The 
Dispossessed, which addresses one of the fundamental challenges 
of Utopian thinking: how to imagine and represent the forms the 
arts might take when neither religion nor commodity exchange 
constitutes the foundation of the arts - specifically of music, that 
most abstract of practices. Although she is not entirely successful 
in her project, its shortcomings suggest criteria for assessing the 
ideological integrity of any Utopian representation. 

The Dispossessed manifestly emphasises the centrality of the arts 
to collective and personal life. The narrator remarks of Anarresti 
(socialist) society, 'No distinction was drawn between the arts and 
the crafts; art was not considered as having a place in life, but as 
being a basic technique of life, like speech'. 3 This situation sharply 
opposes Urrasti (capitalist) society, where the arts are depicted 
purely in exchange values that have been mystified as idealist 
aesthetics. Art as 'basic technique of life', therefore, specifies far 
more than mere personal practice, entailing a collective social and 
cultural logic, as opposed to the dehumanising isolation resulting 
from commodity exchange. However, Le Guin's ostensibly 
progressive and humanising assumptions regarding the arts entail 
a fundamental ideological contradiction. 

Perhaps the greatest challenge for the Utopian novelist is to 
represent how an alternative economic system might affect other 
segments of the social formation, such as the arts. One way to 
theorise the relationship is through Marx's fundamental analytical 


categories for the analysis of any mode of production: the means 
and relations of production and consumption. With special 
emphasis on the arts, Bertolt Brecht modified Marx's economic 
apparatus to clarify how artistic and economic practices connect, 
and so I will employ his notion of the material apparatus to 
explore the production issues, while drawing from Etienne Balibar 
and Pierre Macherey's 'On Literature as an Ideological Form' 
(1974) 4 and the work of Slavoj 2izek to theorise consumption 
issues, especially the key philosophical category of reflection. After 
outlining Brecht's model and applying it to the representation of 
the arts in The Dispossessed with reference to music, I discuss 
'reflection as consumption', the novel's ideological blind spot. The 
representation of music in Robinson's Blue Mars (1996) is then 
offered as a contrasting example, and I conclude by theorising 
how Utopian fiction might overcome the barriers of ideological 
mystification in order to imagine post-capitalist social formations 
and the arts. 

The Apparatus and the Arts 

Brecht's concept of the apparatus provides a useful model for 
understanding the significance of form as the bearer of ideological 
tendencies in Utopian fiction, and by extension in all art. Brecht 
is not the only theorist to emphasise form in this manner 
(Adorno, for example, commented that 'form - the social nexus 
of everything particular - represents the social relation in the 
artwork'), 5 but he does offer a particularly clear theoretical means 
to demythologise the claim that aesthetics is the most important 
factor in understanding the arts. His radical assertions that '[a]rt is 
merchandise, only to be manufactured by the means of production 
(apparati)' and that artists must not imagine 'that they have got 
hold of an apparatus which in fact has got hold of them' serve to 
ground the two main issues with which I am concerned in relation 
to Utopian fiction. 6 By 'the apparatus' Brecht means: 1 ) the ways in 
which artistic practice conforms to and is limited by the conditions 
of material production specific to capitalism, which, in the main, 
defines the artwork as a commodity; 2) the process by which 


art's status as commodity defines its formal relationship to the 
dominant mode of production. 7 In other words, any work of 
art reproduces the assumptions underlying the social means and 
relations of production and consumption of capitalism - the need 
to generate a profit - no matter what the content might represent. 
The implications of social relations, in particular, are significant 
for interpreting Le Guin's sense of Utopian art. 

While Brecht is concerned with the artwork only within the 
capitalist mode of production, his emphasis on how the apparatus 
is always silently inscribed in the ontological sense of what is 
meant by 'the arts' can logically be extended to any other mode of 
production, socialist or otherwise, such as is frequently represented 
in Utopian fiction. Form must not be understood, however, solely 
as the imaginative product of solitary artistic genius. Rather than 
being an 'object', as Raymond Williams notes, form represents 
'the relations between social (collective) modes and individual 
projects'. 8 Form is thus a mediated process, a strategy of repre- 
sentation that arises spontaneously in response to the complex, 
evolving material and social demands of the dominant culture. The 
degree to which the forms of the arts, rather than their content, 
silently reproduce the latent 'social nexus' of capitalism when 
represented in the proposed Utopian non- or post-capitalist mode 
of production serves as my analytical touchstone. 

The post-capitalist society on Anarres is represented as dedicated 
to creating a whole new way of life based on a radical redefinition 
of 'common sense' that maximises mutual aid, human potential 
and freedom, as opposed to the contrasting Urrasti self-interest, 
exploitation, commodity exchange and material accumulation. 
Thus The Dispossessed connects material issues of production 
and consumption to the respective social formations and their 
arts. We must be precise, however, with respect to Le Guin's 
orientation. Anarres's anarchical society, where the bureaucratic 
mechanisms of the state have been pared to an absolute minimum, 
bears strong affinities to anarcho-syndicalism, rather than being 
an instance of Marx's 'withering away of the state'. 9 While of no 
impact at the initial level of analysis, this distinction eventually 
becomes important in its bearing on the ontological underpinnings 


of Le Guin's representation of the arts. Anarresti society is shown 
as dedicated to a definition of ideological 'common sense' that 
strives to maximise human potential and freedom. The Anarresti 
consciously refashion many elements of their former ontological 
paradigm (for example, a whole new language), with the result 
that their post-capitalist 'organic economy was too essential to 
the functioning of the society not to affect ethics and aesthetics' 10 
- and, indeed, every other aspect of social relations. Le Guin 
invokes here, of course, the fundamental Marxian notion of the 
interrelatedness of all components of the social formation, with 
an emphasis on economics. 

The notion of 'organic economy' is key. Le Guin implies that her 
vision of Anarresti society will represent a radically new sense of 
relations of production affecting such factors as respect, freedom 
and imaginative expression. Work and private life are far more 
highly integrated, producing pointedly Utopian, non-alienated 
and collective effects in both individual consciousness and social 
relations. Let me repeat that my entire line of reasoning rejects the 
presumed priority of the idealist analytical category of 'aesthetics', 
though Le Guin herself embraces the concept, and to this point I 
will return in due course. With this collective 'organic economy' 
and concomitant apparatus of production in mind, therefore, let 
us examine the depiction of Anarresti music with respect to the 
demands of production and consumption in order to lay bare that 
economy's latent ontological assumptions. 

Music on Anarres 

The social context of music on Anarres differs strikingly from that 
on Urras, the latter representing our own commodity-exchange 
status quo. Indeed, the conditions on Urras do not require specific 
illumination, as we will recognise them by their opposite number 
on Anarres. Shevek, the protagonist, states, 

Music is a cooperative art, organic by definition, social. It may be the noblest 
form of social behavior we're capable of. It's certainly one of the noblest 


jobs an individual can undertake. And by its nature, by the nature of any 
art, it's a sharing. The artist shares, it's the essence of his act. 11 

On Anarres, therefore, music is represented as cooperatively 
social, not individualistic and isolating, and certainly not subject 
to individual material ownership. Thus, neither Shevek nor 
any of his comrades is shown as claiming music as a personal 
material possession, but, as we shall see, for all of its presumed 
social purity, Anarresti music maintains a latent propertarian 
relationship through the process of reflection. First, however, 
I will outline Le Guin's successful manifest re-contextualisa- 
tions of music's form and purpose when it is freed from capital's 
production apparatus. 

On Anarres, the conditions and relations of musical production 
are striking. Music is a live performance medium, entailing no 
social network of management and labour, and never reproduced 
via technology: no 'Hit Parade', no virtuoso specialists, no 
egotistical celebrity artists, no exploitative managers or record 
companies, no product sales, no media hype - in short, no 
commodity 'product' whatsoever. In all of these manifest ways 
Le Guin has represented faithfully the formal requirements of 
production. The apparatus model further enables us to establish 
and clarify the additional, fundamental latent meaning of artistic 
form: on Anarres the underlying form is that of an interactive 
event, while on Urras, as in our culture, music is understood as 
intellectual property whose meaning emerges through commodity 
exchange. The mechanism of production is the crucial factor 
respecting art's form. Variations of content, while interesting, 
have a far lesser ideological significance for art than those of form. 
As Adorno notes, 'the relation of art to society is not to be sought 
primarily in the sphere of reception. This relation is anterior to 
reception, in production'. 12 Seen in this light, for art to be Utopian, 
it must transform the social relations of its production, or, in other 
words, transform the apparatus. 

The interactive experience of making and listening to live 
music on Anarres is therefore intensely social in ways rare both 
on Urras and in our own society. For clarification, one need 


only consider two films about cultures not based on capitalist 
assumptions: AtanarjuaU The Fast Runner (Kunuk, 2001) depicts 
in passing how music functions in Inuit culture; and Songcatcher 
(Greenwald, 2000) renders well a pre-capitalistic sense of music 
practice in early-twentieth-century Appalachia. In both cultures, 
there are no privileged performance experts with accompanying 
elitist status - any and every person could and did routinely 
improvise personal songs on the spot for specific applications, 
such as expressions of anger, frustration or courtship, but also 
maintained a large inventory of collective tunes for general social 
use, as in religious ritual; and the idea of regarding a song as 
either personal property or material product is ontologically 
unimaginable, a non sequitur. 

Anarres, however, is an ambiguous Utopia that has not yet rid 
itself of all potentially crippling practices, and Le Guin openly 
depicts sticky points. One of her most successful, probing criticisms 
occurs through the crisis faced by Shevek's friend Salas, who is 
represented as unable to secure a labour posting from Divlab 
(the ostensibly egalitarian and non-authoritarian coordinating 
agency for worker assignments) as a composer, despite having 
created a large body of original music. The surprising reason 
for the rejection is 'I write dysfunctional function'. 1 ' The irony 
that music can ever be considered 'dysfunctional' in a supposedly 
anarchical and libertarian society reveals a disturbing ideological 
flaw embedded in Anarresti culture. Bedap, another of Shevek's 
friends, explains the situation: Divlab 

can justify it because music isn't useful The circle has come right back 

around to the most vile kind of profiteering utilitarianism. The complexity, 
the vitality, the freedom of invention and initiative that was the center 
of the Odonian idea, we've thrown it all away. We've gone right back 
to barbarism. 14 

Bedap refers here to the liberatory philosophy of Odo, which 
forms the ontological basis for Anarresti society and which fiercely 
asserts complete personal freedom for all citizens - a fundamental 
principle Divlab compromises in its concerns for collective survival 


on a planet with a harsh environment and severely limited natural 
and labour resources. 

On Anarres, then, Utopian personal freedom is undermined by 
collective material and logistical problems, which, while banal, 
are also undeniably threatening and socially influential. Thus, Le 
Guin forthrightly explores the conflict of interests by depicting 
the treatment of a composer whose creative work falls beyond the 
pale of even this most progressive of Utopian societies. 

Reflection as Ideological Hallucination 

Although Le Guin frees music (and other specified arts) from 
commodity exchange status, a resilient element of capitalist 
ontology latently resides in her otherwise well-informed and 
nuanced representation of Anarresti music. In what at first 
appears to be an unexceptional, even 'natural' detail, Shevek 
remarks that he has 'discovered, at last, His art'. ls Why the need 
for the possessive pronoun? Why does Le Guin assume that 
the Annaresti consume and possess art at the level of personal 
reflection? Why does she assume that reflection as perception 
of art is a universally transcendent experience? The answer, I 
propose, is that the prescriptions of capitalism's commodity 
experience of consumption have been mystified through the 
ontological presumption of 'human nature'. For all of her 
efforts to recast music in a non-commodified form, Le Guin is 
unable to recognise and move beyond one of the most powerful, 
pervasive, insidious, and yet subtle areas of capitalist ideological 
penetration: psychic reflection. 

As Balibar and Macherey insist in an assertion that can be 
extended to all the arts, 'to understand this category [reflection] 
is therefore the key to the Marxist conception of literature'. 16 
The 'Marxist category of "reflection" is quite separate from 
the empiricist and sensualist concept of the image, reflection 
as "mirroring". The reflection, in dialectical materialism, is a 
"reflection without a mirror"', or, rather, a projection 'of the 
"real" in the manner of an hallucination'. 17 This tendency to 
hallucinate is quintessentially an effect of collective ideological 


orientation, but is not perceived as such by the individual 
consciousness. The mechanisms of reflection silently replicate 
the underlying assumptions of the prevailing mode of production 
within the social relations of consumption. The operations of 
this latent mechanism can be theorised - indeed, even recognised 
- only by a materialist theory of reflection. 

Le Guin unknowingly internalises the cultural logic of capital 
in ways which operate at the latent level described by Jameson's 
concept of the 'political unconscious'. 18 To be more specific: 
capital's consumers assume that the music's form is aesthetic and 
its purpose is pleasure, but the presumption that the experience 
of art be pleasurable is strictly historical and unique to our 
own era: 'indeed, as components of ritual [religious] praxis the 
predecessors of art were not autonomous [from social function]; 
yet precisely because they were sacred they were not objects of 
enjoyment'. 19 Adorno expands this insight by identifying the 
underlying distinction: 'The bourgeois wants art voluptuous and 
life ascetic; the reverse would be better'. 20 Anarresti art is exactly 
voluptuous through the assumed notion of aesthetic pleasure. To 
repeat the relevant quotation: 'organic economy was too essential 
to the functioning of the society not to affect ... aesthetics'. 21 Le 
Guin (and our culture) fails to recognise that to achieve a wholly 
new identity, art must transcend the commodity assumptions of 
both material production (which Le Guin rightly understands) 
and reflective consumption (which she does not). 

Theorising the connection between pleasure and the operations 
of reflection is difficult, yet crucial. The reified logic of capitalist 
consumption dictates that the pleasure value of art is always 
and precisely personal. Thus Le Guin must not be criticised for 
imagining that the problem of the relationship of art to life under 
capital can be solved by simply recasting art in non-commodified 
and hence socially organic relations of production. Indeed, her 
representation of art as freed from commodity exchange is 
progressive, but her definition of art itself is idealised and not 
historically valid. It assumes a specious, falsely nostalgic notion 
of aesthetically transcendent 'pure art' of the sort produced in 
small-scale village and even tribal cultures. 


Pleasure as replicated ideology is also theorised by Slavoj 2izek, 
who argues that 'enjoyment is sustained by a severe superego 
imperative'. 22 He suggests that interpretations such as Freud's and 
Marcuse's notions of the 'pleasure principle', which tie enjoyment 
(understood as synonymous with pleasure) to the body and 
hence to the id, are either wrong or vastly insufficient. Rather, 
enjoyment is a matter of consciousness and 'in its innermost status 
[is] something imposed, ordered - when we enjoy, we never do 
it "spontaneously," we always follow a certain injunction'. 23 
2izek outlines the mechanism by which this injunction to enjoy 
operates. In short, 'enjoyment' is an inverted psychic projection 
that one quilts from 'heterogeneous material into a unified 
ideological field' by imagining 'the way I see the others seeing 
we'. 24 Enjoyment is therefore the experience of taking pleasure in 
what I think others would insist that I enjoy - a line of argument 
consistent with Balibar and Macherey's sense of reflection as 
ideological hallucination, and with Marx's assertion that 'Life is 
not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life'. 25 

To summarise: the enjoyment of art is the psychic replication 
of socially assumed mandates - in other words, of ideology - 
governing all pleasure through two separate but related areas. 
The first is the need to identify and embrace certain forms of 
cultural production as belonging to the socially constructed and 
privileged category 'art'. As Adomo, Jameson, Eagleton, Williams, 
Brecht and Benjamin suggest, art itself has taken on a very specific 
historical meaning since the medieval period. Thus, art as we 
understand it did not exist prior to the advent of capitalism; that 
which is construed as art under capital is a heavily loaded category 
that has no similar meaning, and would be unrecognisable, under 
any other mode of production. Therefore Shevek's notion that 
music is 'his art' is historically specific in assuming that music 
even qualifies as 'art'. 

The second component involves the assertion that the artwork 
produces pleasure. The experience of enjoying art is not naturally 
occurring, but rather an entirely learned behaviour. The particular 
response is generated in accordance with the historical moment's 
symbolic order, the latter conforming to the particular ideological 


imperatives of the mode of production but misrecognised by the 
psychic subject as 'natural' (that is, conforming to the ontological 
paradigm of what is 'known to be the truth'). As Jameson reminds 
us, pleasure is always dialectical, always historical and always a 
'socially symbolic experience'. 26 In the era of capitalism, pleasure, 
as Adorno teaches us, is best understood as having a psychic 
'disciplining function' by which exchange value 'disguises itself as 
the object of enjoyment'. 27 On this view pleasure is 'disguised' as 
taste, which Adorno further declares 'is itself outmoded' 28 simply 
for the fact that taste is learned exchange-value behaviour, not 
naturally occurring innate personal preference. 

To return to 2izek, the experience of encountering the artwork 
is a combination of 'the Imaginary ... hooked on the Symbolic', 29 
so that conformance to social expectations through the superego 
is the very essence of ideology. The enjoyment resulting from the 
fusing of the Imaginary and the Symbolic in the superego, now 
understood as the embodiment of ideology, may perhaps be more 
usefully termed social allegory. By allegory, Ziiek means a given 
ideological field which 'encloses itself [and] effaces the traces of 
the material process which generated it', while Jameson terms 
allegory 'the thematizing of a particular pleasure as a political 
issue'. 30 These two senses strongly reinforce each other and serve 
well to argue for pleasure as a mandated, internalised socio- 
political fiction. 

Further, this allegory of enjoyment varies according to the 
social (class) relations of consumption in any given mode of 
production. Pierre Bourdieu's work on social and symbolic spaces 
suggests that what one considers a personal pleasure is highly 
class-specific, and nothing other than what one has learned and 
internalised as pleasurable. Likewise, what one disdains becomes 
'proof of the 'natural' difference - and thus inferiority - of 
the social Other. For example, in French social practices, piano 
music is associated with the largest accumulations of cultural and 
actual capital, while accordion music is the 'preference' of those 
with far fewer resources and lower status. 31 This differentiation 
of what various classes consider 'pleasurable' extends to sport, 


hobbies and beverages, as well as the arts, and is translatable 
into political positions. 

The very idea of Shevek having 'his art' is therefore an excellent 
example of the 'imaginary solution' that reveals an irresolvable 
social contradiction. According to the theoretical assumptions of 
Anarresti culture, notions of personal ownership and social class 
of any kind should be nonexistent. On the one hand, music is 
depicted as a learned collective and non-classist social pleasure, 
and yet on the other the phrase 'his music' must mean 'the art 
form preferred by Shevek and others like him', implying the unac- 
knowledged existence of class distinctions and, presumably, even 
residual class struggle. 

To the objection that surely humans can and do express 
personal preferences and enjoyments, I suggest that whatever 
'truth' is contained in the assertion of 'natural personal pleasure' is 
precisely that which is challenged by Lacan's notion of pleasure as 
social injunction. Of course, observation will show us that people 
do 'enjoy' the arts, but the pleasure they experience, I argue, is 
innately ideological. 'Therefore', Zizek comments, '"criticism of 
ideology" consists in unmasking traditional allegory as an "optical 
illusion" concealing the mechanics of modern allegory', 32 echoing 
Balibar and Macherey's perception of 'the real' as hallucination 
and Adorno's notion of 'disguise'. In other words, what we have 
long imagined as personal pleasure in the arts as 'natural human 
experience' is one allegory among many that serves to conceal its 
own 'space of ideological narration'. 33 

To clarify even further what might be gained by interpreting rep- 
resentations of Utopian art from the perspective of the apparatus, let 
us turn to Robinson's Blue Mars, which contrasts sharply with Le 
Guin's in its recognition of the space of ideological narration. 

'The Sheffield Sound': Music on Mars 

Robinson represents numerous episodes concerning art forms in 
Blue Mars, including architecture, film, theatre, opera and dance. 
Two of these, involving music, demonstrate important Utopian 


dynamics. The first is a relatively short and hence simple example, 
the second much more complex. 

Nirgal, a native-born Martian, has temporarily joined 'the 
ferals', a purposely non-technological social group living as close 
to the natural world as possible, and representing what Marx 
terms the tribal or primitive mode of production: 'A group of 
them picked up some stones and began to hit them together in 
rhythm, all their different patterns meshing bass to treble. The rest 
of them began to dance around the bonfire, hooting or singing 
or chanting.' 34 A tribal culture depicted as engaging in rhythmic 
percussion and dancing is unremarkable from the traditional 
aesthetic perspective, inasmuch as one would not expect such a 
society to be capable of producing or practising 'civilised' complex 
musical forms. In fact, the resulting sound lacks such components 
as melody and form. The formal properties gain considerable 
ideological interest in two ways, however, when approached from 
materialist (non-aesthetic) perspectives generated by the demands 
of the apparatus: 1) the relationship between the primitive (pre- 
capitalist) mode of production and the purpose of music; and 2) 
the ways in which music is produced and consumed as related to 
the culture's framework of social relations. 

In every sense Robinson is faithful to the social relations 
relative to and required by the artificially re-enacted primitive 
mode of production. As opposed to the capitalist sense of 
music as 'intellectual property' - as a commodity whose use 
is intended to maximise gain for the owners of the music, who 
are often not its creators - Robinson's feral music exists in a 
non-commodifiable form as an event: a collective, dynamic 
social experience outside material exchange in which anyone 
and everyone can play (another example of which is the group 
drumming practised today in our culture as anachronisms). 
This means that there is no labour category of 'musician', no 
separate category of 'audience', and no special instruments (which 
would require specialist labour to produce and would become 
commodities bought and sold within an exchange network of 
ownership demarcating hierarchical social status). An emphasis 
on the apparatus rather than on traditional aesthetic categories 


such as technical proficiency allows the ontological (ideological) 
assumptions of musical practice to emerge. 

The second episode appears as a minor digression in the plot, 
but is useful for more directly interrogating the novel's Utopian 
integrity with respect to the arts. In a section primarily concerned 
with depicting political debates about immigration policy, the 
characters, following a day of heated discussions, congregate at 
a dancing venue. Maya, Vendana and Athos wander downtown 
'until they passed a large band playing what they called the Sheffield 
sound. This music was only noise to Maya: twenty different drum 
rhythms at once, on instruments not intended for percussion 
or even for musical use'. JS Despite the fact that this episode is 
situated within a highly technological urban setting, the apparatus 
requirements of musical production and consumption are met. 
Thus, as with the ferals, musical practice exists formally outside 
of the commodity framework, and emphasises egalitarian social 
relations - though this time not in a tribal mode of production, but 
rather in a post-capitalist economy. In other words, both groups 
share the same non-capitalist and hence non-hierarchical social 
relations that are embedded in their practice of music. 

Robinson deploys the music and dancing as an analogue to 
amplify the concomitant political implications of the chapter. In 
other words, the music and dance scene serves metaphorically 
to meditate on how 'twenty different' drummers can produce 
a satisfying and useful collective result. Maya at first is said to 
think of the result as 'noise', which is, of course, an aesthetic 
response grounded in the capitalist sense of pleasurable reflection, 
but is later represented as thinking 'it made a kind of sense; 
not musical sense as she understood it, but rhythmic sense'; 
and when confronted by someone who remarks, 'I thought you 
didn't like this kind of music', responds 'Sometimes I do'. 36 In 
other words, Maya, as one of the 'First Hundred' settlers, and 
thus still carrying the ideological baggage of Terran, capitalist 
aesthetic assumptions, begins to grasp, if in only a partially 
conscious way, what is for the native-born Martians the new 
internalised ontological logic of egalitarian practices of both 
music and politics. Hence, while Robinson intends the Sheffield 


Sound to serve as a metaphor for the newly emerging political 
sensibilities on Mars, that very political reality in turn generates 
the conditions for a new form of music. The relationship is solidly 
reciprocal in the most credible sense. 

Challenges to Imagining Utopian Arts 

The Dispossessed reminds us that the current sense of 'art' is a 
complex and ever-changing cluster of definitions and practices 
emerging out of and serving in turn the ideological purposes of the 
feudal and capitalistic modes of production, which in their turn 
will not be viable under future modes of production. Furthermore, 
there is no possibility of returning to some a priori 'true' notion 
of art as practised by 'tribal' or 'primitive' societies because: 1) no 
such practice as Le Guin represents ever existed; and 2) primitive 
social contexts of expression through song, dance, painting and 
so on never contained any transcendent essence that has been 
degraded in modern times. Surviving objects and practices of tribal 
and primitive cultures served far different social purposes that are 
routinely re-valued today through the mechanisms of ahistorical, 
aesthetic and ontological conceptions that silently serve capitalist 
ideology: tribal artefacts for personal consumption, either for 
elite collector commodity exchange value or to satisfy rarefied 
personal 'aesthetically culinary tastes', the latter always entailing 
some variety of elitist cultural (or actual material) capital. Le Guin 
has therefore rightly identified the significance to the arts of the 
production side of the capitalist commodity-exchange apparatus, 
but has not recognised the similar importance of the relations and 
means of consumption. 

We are now in a position to address briefly a broader theoretical 
implication - namely the ideological blockages that prevent 
Utopian imagination in the first place. If the ideology of the 
status quo is pervasive, how can the Utopian novelist possibly 
imagine alternatives? Adorno states the honest but brutal truth 
that 'thoroughly non-ideological art is indeed probably completely 
impossible', virtually invalidating any attempt 'to sketch the form 
of art in a changed society', for the simple reason that we do 


not and cannot know what art would mean or require in some 
future post-capitalist mode of production. 37 As Perry Anderson 
likewise remarks, Utopias 'retain, for all their potential luxuriance 
of detail, at root a stubborn negativity, an emblem of what, despite 
everything, we cannot grasp or imagine, and which the charac- 
teristic oscillations and oppositions within the Utopian repertoire 
bespeak'. 38 An understanding of the seminal importance of the 
apparatus, however, may provide at least an initial strategy for 
imagining the supposedly unimaginable. 

Instead of focusing on this or that new form of art from the 
perspective of idealist aesthetics, particular styles or techniques, 
or even particular manifest forms - such as Walter M. Miller, Jr's 
decidedly reactionary depiction of mechanistic 'autodrama' in 
the Hugo Award-winning 'The Darfsteller' (1955) - the demands 
of the apparatus require us to rethink form, and especially 
Utopian form, from the perspective of social relations. 39 Thus, 
Le Guin's depiction of music in The Dispossessed does not 
pass the test of credibility simply because she assumes that our 
current hallucinatory sense of reflection would be reproduced in 
the decidedly anarchist and post-capitalistic society of Anarres. 
Understood in this sense, it does not matter how 'different' 
Anarresti music is with respect to tonal structures or melodies 
or any other technical elements, for it is not true to the ideological 
requirements of its own economic apparatus. 

Le Guin's representation of music is, instead, an excellent 
example of what Raymond Williams calls a variation of a presently 
understood art form, rather than the more properly dynamic and 
Utopian matter of innovation that a whole new mode of social 
relations would require. As Williams writes, 'theory can show that 
form is inevitably a [social] relationship', with the result that to 
create art 'in different ways is to live in different ways'.'' 0 Le Guin 
manifestly asserts that the arts are 'the basic technique of life', 
but unfortunately she is invoking historically and theoretically 
incompatible notions of both 'life' and 'art'. Robinson's depiction 
of music, in contrast, tentatively but more fully achieves the goal 
of historically legitimate Utopian innovation. His sense of a post- 
capitalist 'form of art in a changed society' of the sort practised 


on Mars might never come to pass. Who knows? But Martian art 
as depicted is at least minimally consistent with the theoretical 
requirements of its apparatus, and therefore plausible. 

Whatever forms and relations 'art' will take under some post- 
capitalist mode of production, we can assert one general guiding 
axiom. If the future does produce a far more materially equitable 
and socially egalitarian society, then all of its practices - in 
education, public affairs, industrial and agricultural production, 
the sciences and so forth - will by necessity take quite different 
forms than those practised under capitalism. So why should not 
the underlying logic of what we call 'art' also differ? In Island 
(1962), Aldous Huxley, an author deeply concerned with the 
expression of art under differing social conditions, offers a 
suggestive insight. Protagonist Will Farnaby learns that Pala's 
supreme art, which can be practised by anyone, is 'the art of 
adequately experiencing ... all the worlds that, as human beings, 
we find ourselves inhabiting'. 41 1 will conclude by refunctioning 42 
and expanding this passage in the following ways: a properly 
Utopian art form is a collective social practice that disempowers 
or exploits no-one, is ideologically transparent, and can be 
produced and/or consumed by any person in some variation. 
This model sharply contrasts with the key assumptions regarding 
art in the era of capitalism, estranges and challenges the elitist 
and exploitative bases of our 'aesthetic' assumptions, and points 
towards innovative conditions of lived social relations, of more 
truly genuine freedom, that we must first strive to imagine if we 
are ever to bring into historical existence. 


1. Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (New York: Oxford 
University Press, 1970), p. 191. 

2. Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called 
Utopia and Other Science Fictions (New York: Verso, 2005), 
pp. 416, 1 84-5; cf. Robert C. Elliott, The Shape of Utopia (Chicago: 
University of Chicago Press, 1970). 

3. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (New 
York: HarperPrism, 1994), p. 156. 


4. See Pierre Macherey, A Theory of Literary Production, transl. 
Geoffrey Wall (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978). 

5. Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, transl. Robert Hullot-Kentor 
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), p. 255. 

6. Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Theatre, ed. and transl. John Willett (New 
York: Hill and Wang, 1964), pp. 35, 34. 

7. For a more complete discussion of Brecht's notion of the apparatus 
and its implications, see William J. Burling, 'Brecht's "U-Effect": 
Theorizing the Horizons of Revolutionary Theatre', in Chris West, 
ed., Brecht, Broadway and United States Theatre (Newcastle: 
Cambridge Scholars Press, 2007). 

8. Williams, Marxism and Literature, p. 187. 

9. Le Guin's exact influence is Peter Kropotkin, particularly Mutual 
Aid (1902), which she calls upon throughout the novel. See Philip 
E. Smith II, 'Unbuilding Walls: Human Nature and the Nature of 
Evolutionary and Political Theory in The Dispossessed', in Joseph 
D. Olander and Martin Harry Greenberg, eds, Le Guin (New York: 
Taplinger, 1979), pp. 77-96. 

10. Le Guin, Dispossessed, p. 98. 

11. Ibid., p. 175. 

12. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, p. 228. 

13. Le Guin, Dispossessed, p. 175. 

14. Ibid., p. 175. 

15. Ibid., p. 157. 

16. Etienne Balibar and Pierre Macherey, 'On Literature as an Ideological 
Form', in Terry Eagleton and Drew Milne, eds, Marxist Literary 
Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), p. 277. 

17. Ibid., pp. 279, 288. 

18. See Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a 
Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981). 

19. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, p. 13. 

20. Ibid., p. 13. 

21. Le Guin, Dispossessed, p. 98. 

22. Slavoj 2izek, For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a 
Political Factor, second edn (New York: Verso, 1992), p. 10. 

23. Ibid., p. 9. 

24. Ibid., pp. 18, 13. 

25. Lewis S. Fuer, ed., Marx and Engels: Basic Writings on Politics and 
Philosophy (New York: Anchor, 1959), p. 247. 

26. Fredric Jameson, 'Pleasure: A Political Issue', in The Ideologies of 
Theory. Volume 2: The Syntax of History (Minneapolis: University 
of Minnesota Press, 1988), p. 73. 

27. Theodor Adorno, 'On the Fetish Character in Music and the 
Regression of Listening', in Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt, eds, 


The Essential Frankfurt School Reader (New York: Continuum, 
1982), pp. 270-9. 

28. Ibid., pp. 270-1. 

29. 2izek, For They Know Not What They Do, p. 10. 

30. Ibid., p. 19; Jameson, 'Pleasure', p. 73. 

31. Pierre Bourdieu, Practical Reason (Stanford: Stanford University 
Press, 1998), p. 8. 

32. 2izek, For They Know Not What They Do, p. 19. 

33. Ibid., p. 19. 

34. Kim Stanley Robinson, Blue Mars (New York: Bantam, 1997), 
p. 464. 

35. Ibid., p. 573. 

36. Ibid., p. 575. 

37. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, pp. 236, 260. 

38. Perry Anderson, 'The River of Time', New Left Review 26 (March/ 
April 2004), pp. 67-8. 

39. For a more properly Utopian representation of theatre, see Samuel R. 
Delany's depiction of 'micro-drama' in Trouble on Triton (1976). 

40. Williams, Marxism and Literature, pp. 187, 205. 

41. Aldous Huxley, Island (New York: Harper Row, 1989), p. 176. 

42. I employ here a key term created and used by Brecht, Umfunk- 
tionierung, variously translated as 'rebuilding', 'readapting' 
and 'functionally reshaping' in the ideological sense. For a fuller 
explanation of this term, see Burling, 'Brecht's "U-Effect"'. 



Carl Freedman 

Consider four crucial moments from four well-known movies: 

1 . A gravely wounded insurance salesman settles behind his desk, 
and, speaking into a Dictaphone, confesses to murder: 'I killed 
him for money, and for a woman', he says. 'And I didn't get 
the money, and I didn't get the woman'. 

2. A criminal mastermind, having organised and led a major 
heist, stands ready to board an aeroplane with his girlfriend 
and make his final getaway. But in his haste he has stuffed 
the loot into a rickety suitcase, and, as the suitcase is being 
loaded onto the plane, it comes apart and the money flies off 
in all directions, reducing his profit to zero and increasing the 
likelihood of capture to near certainty. 

3. An alien physically indistinguishable from human beings, 
who has been mortally wounded by a senseless act of earthly 
violence, emerges revived from his spaceship and proceeds, 
calmly and with complete authority, to explain to a group of 
scientists and soldiers that unprecedented opportunities await 
humanity if it learns how to behave peacefully - but that, if 
humans threaten to extend their aggressive ways into outer 
space, then the Earth will be destroyed by the robot police 
force established by the other inhabited planets. 

4. An astronaut, having been sent on a mysterious mission 
to Jupiter, and then having been diverted by even more 



mysterious forces to remote parts of the universe, winds up 
in an ornately furnished apartment, where he passes through 
the stages of life from young manhood to extreme old age and 
is reborn as the 'Star Child' of evidently planetary scope and 
godlike powers. 

The four films referred to are, respectively, Double Indemnity 
(Wilder, 1944), The Killing (Kubrick, 1956), The Day the Earth 
Stood Still (Wise, 1951) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 
1968). The first two are instances of film noir, the second two 
of SF cinema; and each may be taken as exemplary of its kind. 
Double Indemnity is the most widely praised single example of 
film noir. Produced relatively early in the original Hollywood 
cycle, Wilder's film was hugely influential on the genre, helping, 
for instance, to establish such common noir motifs as the use of 
voice-over narration and the centrality of the femme fatale. The 
Killing is not commonly ranked quite so high, but is likely to 
appear on critics' lists of the ten or fifteen best examples of classic 
noir. It is perhaps the most influential of all heist films, and its 
continuing vitality is illustrated by (for instance) the impact that 
its structure has had on such movies as Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino, 
1992) and, to a lesser degree, Pulp Fiction (Tarantino, 1994). 
The Day the Earth Stood Still is probably the strongest instance 
of Hollywood SF in its original (Eisenhower-era) phase; and its 
influence on later cinema (for example, in its montage of newscasts 
during the film's opening sequence) has extended beyond SF. 2001, 
as I have argued elsewhere, 1 is something like the permanently 
definitive masterpiece of SF cinema, with not only no rival but 
virtually no second. 

The two noir scenes described above emphatically proclaim the 
films in which they are embedded to be deflationary in outlook. 
Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) begins Wilder's film not simply by 
confessing to murder, but by admitting that his intricate scheme of 
grand passion and grand larceny has resulted in complete failure, 
and will yield nothing but his own destruction. Perhaps most 
deflating of all for Walter, he now knows that the passion he 
felt for the stunning Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), his 


partner in crime, was never requited, her apparent interest in him 
just a cynical pretence to cover her real, and entirely mercenary, 
motives. The conclusion of The Killing is equally, if differently, 
deflationary. Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) is shrewder than 
Walter Neff, and his main problem is not that he misjudges his 
associates nor that he underestimates the investigating authorities 
(as Walter disastrously underestimates Barton Keyes - played by 
Edward G. Robinson - his best friend and the chief investigator 
for the insurance company that he and Phyllis attempt to 
defraud). But Johnny - like Doc Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe), 
the master criminal in The Asphalt Jungle (Huston, 1950), which 
had a powerful influence on Kubrick's movie - underestimates 
something more fundamental and more formidable: the power 
of sheer blind luck. His criminal scheme is smarter and more 
complex than Walter's, and, unlike Walter's, is designed to make 
some allowance for unexpected mishaps along the way. But even 
Johnny Clay cannot plan for everything, like the way that an 
intrinsically trivial factor like the flimsiness of a piece of luggage 
can undo all his brilliant work. For The Killing, as for Double 
Indemnity, life has less - much less - to offer than one might 
have imagined: 'What's the difference?' asks Johnny with weary 
resignation in the film's final line. 

In the SF films, however, life offers much more than expected. 
The humanoid appearance of the alien Klaatu (Michael Rennie) 
allows him to mix undetected in the mundane affairs of 
Washington, DC, and so helps The Day the Earth Stood Still to 
provide some fine realistic satire of Cold War America under the 
Truman administration. The short-sightedness and corruption 
of much in American life are highlighted, and are condensed in 
Tom Stevens (Hugh Marlowe), the boyfriend of the lead female 
character, Helen Benson (Patricia Neal), and a man consumed by 
petty egoistic motives (and also, like Walter Neff, an insurance 
salesman by trade). But the film ultimately dismisses Tom; and 
Klaatu's closing speech makes clear that the global humanitarian 
perspective of the scientist Jacob Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe), clearly 
modelled after Albert Einstein, is far more compelling and actual. 
If the planet faces possible catastrophe, it also enjoys undreamed- 


of opportunities, as Klaatu invites humanity to save itself and 
to live in peaceful cooperation with extraterrestrial races of far 
greater intellectual and moral attainments. 

2001 is even more inflationary in outlook, even more insistent 
that reality is richer and more various than most people assume. 
As the film begins its second major section, set in the titular year, 
humanity has reached a crisis of banality, pettiness, corruption 
and mortal danger. The crisis not only 'rhymes' with the more 
primitive but structurally similar impasse represented in the film's 
first part, set during 'the dawn of man', but is also reminiscent of 
the state of affairs that Klaatu and Professor Barnhardt found so 
distressing. But Kubrick's film offers a transcendence that is even 
more extraordinary, visually and thematically, than that provided 
by The Day the Earth Stood Still. In 2001, the human race is not 
'merely' given the chance to join in something like an extrater- 
restrial version of the United Nations (in its original Rooseveltian 
conception). Humanity, in the person of the unremarkable 
astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea), actually takes a stride 
forward in physical and spiritual evolution, going 'beyond the 
infinite' - that is, beyond all supernatural mystifications - in order 
to arrive, in neo-Nietzschean fashion, at a material and secular 
state of superhumanity. Dave Bowman begins as an Everyman 
at the dawn of the twenty-first century - technically competent 
and physically efficient, but an intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic 
nullity - and ends as a natural god. 

The opposition between the inflationary and the deflationary 
suggested by these four films provides a cognitive axis along which 
the cinematic genres of SF and noir can be contrasted. SF of 
course has its origins in literature - more specifically in British 
Romanticism, one of the most inflationary movements in cultural 
history. The most widely accepted and most plausible candidate to 
be the first major work of full-fledged SF remains Mary Shelley's 
Frankenstein (1818), which tackles the awesomely inflationary 
theme of the artificial creation of human life (and which was 
composed under the direct inspiration of Percy Shelley's poetry, 
commonly regarded as more than usually inflationary even by 
Romantic standards). This inflationary bent - this cognitive 


affirmation and aesthetic demonstration that, as Ernst Bloch put 
it, reality is never merely itself but always means 'reality plus the 
future within it' 2 - becomes the principal (though not the only) 
tendency in the history of SF. It is particularly in evidence in the 
strongest works of the genre, from pioneering classics like H.G. 
Wells' The Time Machine ( 1 895) and, even more, Olaf Stapledon's 
Last and First Men (1930) and Star Maker (1937), through the 
main achievements of the 1 960s and 1 970s - probably the genre's 
most creative period, owing to such authors as Philip K. Dick, 
Ursula Le Guin, Samuel Delany, J.G. Ballard, Thomas Disch, 
Joanna Russ, and many others - to more recent triumphs like 
Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars (1993-96) and China Mieville's 
Bas-Lag (2000-04) trilogies. 

As The Day the Earth Stood Still and 2001 illustrate, SF 
cinema continues this inflationary bent in those (relatively few) 
films that are allied, in cognitive substance and aesthetic integrity, 
to the main current of literary SF. To be sure, most cinematic 
productions of the genre tend to degrade the latter through an 
anti-intellectual obsession with technique and spectacle; and, 
accordingly, the typical SF movie tends to display a hypertrophy 
of special effects. Yet something of the inflationary pressure of 
SF - expressed particularly in the visual dimension - can survive 
even such degradation. Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the 
Third Kind (1977), for example, marshals narrative and thematic 
resources that are nugatory by the standards of literary SF, not 
even rising to the level of the mediocre. But the visual splendour 
of the Mothership - surely cinema's most artfully designed and 
compelling space vehicle since 2001 itself - maintains, though in 
purely spectacular terms, the properly science-fictional impulse 
to transcend the mundane and to imply a depth and richness of 
reality that go beyond any empirical norm. Even when limited 
by Spielberg's conceptual banality, SF does not necessarily cease 
to insist, or at least to suggest, that we need not and should not 
settle for the familiar contingencies of everyday existence. The 
typical lifeworld of SF is (to adapt Shakespeare's well-known 
phrase from the play that marks his own nearest approach to SF) 
a brave new world. 


Settling for the mundane is, by contrast, precisely what film 
noir is all about. Like the American hard-boiled detective fiction 
pioneered by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, from 
which film noir partly derives, noir is not, to be sure, invariably 
cynical. It does not necessarily insist that human beings are driven 
only by the basest motives, nor that honesty and decency are 
unattainable. In Double Indemnity, for example, Keyes displays 
even greater acumen and toughness than the gangster anti- 
heroes for which Edward G. Robinson was famous, while also 
adhering to a rigorous, if mostly unspoken, code of honour in a 
manner strikingly similar to that of the ideal detective celebrated 
in Chandler's influential (and exactly contemporary) manifesto, 
'The Simple Art of Murder' (1944). 

Nonetheless, if noir men (and, more rarely, women) are capable 
of honour, it is a difficult and rare achievement. In general, the 
most widely and reliably operative human motives turn out to be 
the most obvious, familiar and selfish ones, mainly greed and lust; 
and, despite the labyrinthine complexity of many noir plots, the 
lifeworld of noir is fundamentally simple, usually boiling down 
to a neo-Hobbesian war of each against each and all against all. 
This leaves a distressingly small margin for human freedom, as 
people are repeatedly shown to be driven by lust, greed and other 
such forces that are difficult to resist even when their dangers are 
at least partly understood: Walter Neff, for example, advances 
steadily towards his doom in the San Quentin death chamber even 
while always knowing, at heart, that involvement with Phyllis can 
lead to nothing but disaster. If not always cynical, noir is deeply 
pessimistic about human possibility and human happiness in a 
way that recalls the deflationary determinism of Freud, whose 
immense popularity in the US during the heyday of classic noir 
forms an important part of the genre's intellectual background. 
If you are doing as well as Keyes - engaged, functional, decent, 
truthful and, if not particularly happy, at least not consumed by 
crippling misery - then, by noir or by psychoanalytic standards, 
you are probably doing as well as human beings can reasonably 
expect to do. Of the characters in the SF films discussed above, 
the only one who could be a character in film noir is Tom Stevens. 


A convenient index of the distance between the two genres is 
provided by the fact that he is utterly contemptible, hardly worthy 
even of living in the same solar system as Klaatu and Professor 
Barnhardt. In noir, though, he would be no worse than average, 
and perhaps even a little better. 

The opposition between the deflationary perspective of noir and 
the inflationary perspective of SF recalls a dialectical tension at 
the heart of Marxism, which is inflationary and deflationary at 
once. The deflationary dimension is represented by the attempt to 
destroy all illusions necessary or useful to the preservation of class 
society in general and of capitalism in particular. Such demysti- 
fication is perhaps most familiar in the form of ideology-critique 
- that is, the exposure of those networks of habit and belief 
that capitalist societies generate and that in turn help to sustain 
capitalism's oppressive practices by inhibiting the development 
of socialist ideas and attitudes. But it also includes the exposure 
of those illusions structurally intrinsic to the actual economic 
mechanisms of the capitalist mode of production - for instance, 
the way that the formally free contract between employer and 
employee conceals the coercive threat of homelessness and 
starvation always, if often implicitly, aimed at those who may 
consider declining the employer's deal; or the way that the 
production of surplus-value and the concomitant structure of 
the wage-relation make it appear that the worker is paid for the 
entire working day, even though wages compensate the worker 
for only a fraction of his or her actual labour time. In the spheres 
of both culture and political economy, the deflation of capitalist 
illusions is an indispensable part of the Marxist project. 

But Marxism ultimately aims at the positive project of human 
liberation and self-realisation, rather than only at the negative 
task of destroying capitalism and other forms of class (and other) 
oppression. For this reason the deflationary moment of Marxism, 
however necessary, can never be sufficient. Marxism is inflationary 
as well, insisting that, despite the fact that class oppression is 
essentially coterminous with the history of the human race, it need 
not always be so. The overthrow of capitalism, for Marxism, need 


. not result merely in the substitution of one ruling class (or elite) for 
another, as the overthrow of feudalism (or the advent of Stalinism) 
did. It can instead be the prelude to the radically democratic 
self-organisation of the human race, allowing all individuals the 
maximum possible fulfilment of their creative potentialities: as 
mankind leaps, in Engels' words, from the realm of necessity to 
the realm of freedom. Even in Capital - not only Marx's most 
important work but also his most elaborately deflationary - Marx 
provides positive glimpses of the liberated, classless future that 
beckons as a concrete possibility after the supersession of the 
capitalist property relations he exposes. In an important passage 
in Volume Three, for example, Marx defines the socialist freedom 
that can be attained when capitalism has been overthrown but 
scarcity not yet eliminated: 

that socialized man, the associated producers, govern the human 
metabolism with nature in a rational way, bringing it under their collective 
control instead of being dominated by it as a blind power; accomplishing 
it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and 
appropriate for their human nature. 

He then offers a briefer hint of the world of achieved communism 
and material abundance that may lie even further in the future: 
'the true realm of freedom, the development of human powers 
as an end in itself'. 3 For Marxism, visionary transcendence is the 
necessary completion of astringent demystification. 

Clearly, I am suggesting a certain homology between the two 
sides of Marxism and the antithetical genres of SF and noir. But 
the matter is too complex to allow for any neat quadripartite 
symmetry. Quantitatively, the work of Marxism is overwhelm- 
ingly on the deflationary side, aiming to produce detailed scientific 
(which means always provisional) knowledge of the real world. 
To say that such strenuous investigation into the workings of 
economic, political and cultural processes is far beyond the ability 
of film noir is not to condemn the latter, but to acknowledge 
a vast generic difference: patently, Double Indemnity is a very 
different kind of achievement from Capital. Yet film noir can be 
understood as producing what the Althusserian tradition might 


call a figurative analogue of deflationary Marxist knowledge. For 
example, the typical noir stress on greed (in the moral sense of 
individual avarice) is, strictly in itself, a matter of little concern to 
Marxist historical analysis. But noir representations of individual 
greed may allegorically gesture towards - though not actually 
produce - the kind of knowledge discoverable through application 
of Marx's principle of the ultimately determining role of the 
economy. There is, for instance, an aesthetic and affective link 
- even though not a fully cognitive one - between, on the one 
hand, Neff's discovery that Phyllis cared nothing for him and 
everything for an insurance claim and, on the other hand, the 
analysis that reveals the armed opposition by Britain and France 
to the invasion of Belgium at the beginning of World War I to 
have been based less on human sympathy for a small nation than 
on the fear that the continued economic exploitation of their own 
empires might be threatened by German expansionism. 

SF, however, may provide something more than an analogue 
of what the inflationary side of Marxism offers: partly because 
the latter is itself so fragmentary and impalpable compared to 
Marxist demystification. It is, after all, impossible to produce 
the same sort of exacting, detailed knowledge about the potential 
future as about the actual past and present: and so the moments 
of inflationary positivity in the Marx-Engels oeuvre, while 
fascinating and important, amount to a series of brief, sometimes 
ambiguous passages scattered throughout tens of thousands of 
pages of mainly deflationary scientific analysis. Since, furthermore, 
the future is strictly unknowable, attempts to comprehend it must 
be largely speculative: and in this way the cinematic and literary 
resources of SF, involving the development of fictional characters 
within an imaginary narrative framework, may sometimes be 
more useful than expository statements. The Day the Earth Stood 
Still cannot fully convey what it might feel like to live in the kind 
of interplanetary cooperative association offered to humanity 
at the film's end. But Klaatu's unsentimental compassion, along 
with his authoritative and completely uncynical knowledgeability, 
provide a suggestive clue. 


It should be stressed that inflationary and deflationary 
perspectives not only combine in Marxism, but form a genuine 
dialectic: each animates and concretises the other. The production 
of deflationary Marxist knowledge, even at its most technical and 
recondite, is thoroughly political - even moral - in orientation. 
Marxism works to deconstruct the conventional middle-class 
dichotomy between fact and value: so that, for instance, Marx's 
central analytic discovery of the secret of profit in the structure of 
surplus-value not only provides scientific knowledge of capitalist 
production but shows the latter to be based on a certain morally 
charged practice, namely theft. Since the ethical unacceptability 
of practices integral to capitalist (and other class) societies is an 
inescapable conclusion of Marxist analysis, the latter necessarily 
implies some positive transcendence of the actual to be mandatory. 
Conversely, Marxist transcendence must be solidly based on a 
scientific understanding of the actual. The positive visions of 
Marxism must be Utopian in the Blochian sense of offering some 
partial but genuine prefiguration of an unalienated, classless 
future, without being Utopian in the bad sense that Marx and 
Engels stigmatised in the case of the 'utopian socialists', whose 
schemes they criticised for being based on wishful thinking rather 
than on an accurate grasp of capitalist reality. If the deflationary 
side of Marxism is necessarily moral and political, the inflationary 
side is necessarily scientific. 

Does this dialectic within Marxism have a counterpart in any 
aesthetic dialectic between SF cinema and film noir? I think that 
it does, and that the dialectic between noir and SF is to be found 
above all in Alex Proyas's neglected Dark City (1998). But the 
interaction of the two genres has a history before Proyas, one that 
might be traced as far back as Fritz Lang's seminal Metropolis 
(1926), which has exercised a huge influence on both SF and 
film noir. Not only is Metropolis the first great example of SF 
cinema, but also, though not an actual instance of noir, perhaps 
the most influential single production of German Expressionism, 
whose attitudes and techniques were to prove so important for 
the noir directors (not least Lang himself, who in his Hollywood 


phase made many noir movies). Two later films that mix SF with 
noir, and that were clearly made under the influence of Lang's 
dark, brooding vision of the ominous city, are Alphaville (Godard, 
1965) and Blade Runner (Scott, 1982); and both point directly 
towards Dark City. 

Alphaville is perhaps the first important film to combine noir 
and SF directly; but its method of composition is more that of 
pastiche than of the dialectic. The film relates how the hard- 
boiled secret agent Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) travels 

- by car, wearing a trench-coat and carrying an automatic pistol 

- across millions of miles of outer space to the totalitarian city of 
Alphaville, which is ruled by a new kind of supercomputer. After 
various noirish adventures, he finally assassinates Professor Von 
Braun (Howard Vernon), Alphaville's top computer scientist, and 
flees with his new girlfriend, the professor's beautiful daughter, 
Natasha (Anna Karina). As might be gathered even from this 
quick summary, in Alphaville noir and SF are not dialectically 
synthesised but instead (as Dr Johnson might have put it) yoked 
together by violence. The result is a hilariously self-conscious 
triumph of pastiche, which not only jumbles together motifs from 
earlier SF cinema and classic Hollywood noir, but also incorporates 
all manner of other cultural fragments, drawn (for instance) from 
the Dick Tracy comic strip and the Heckel-and-Jeckel cartoons, as 
well as from such loftier sources as Dante, Shakespeare, Pascal, 
Baudelaire and T.S. Eliot. Again and again the film rejoices in the 
deliberate absurdity of its own juxtapositions. For instance, as 
Lemmy and Natasha make their final getaway (in a white Ford 
Galaxy!), Lemmy comments, in properly noirish voice-over, 'A 
night drive across intersidereal space and we'd be home' - as 
though travel between star systems were like taking a spin on the 
Los Angeles freeways. The detail that two generations of over- 
earnest SF fans have identified as the film's chief 'mistake' - the use 
of the term 'light-year' as a unit of time (and later of computing 
power) rather than of distance - is of course no mistake at all. 
'Light year' is used as a comically generic signifier of scientificity, 
one that Godard gleefully pastes together with all the others in 
his postmodern collage. 


Blade Runner makes a more genuinely dialectical attempt to 
meld noir with SF. 4 The protagonist, Rick Deckard (Harrison 
Ford), is a typically hard-boiled noir hero - directly modelled, at 
least in part, after Humphrey Bogart's characters in The Maltese 
Falcon (Huston, 1941) and The Big Sleep (Hawks, 1946) - and 
his professional assignment to eliminate several out-of-control 
android replicants provides occasion for a series of noirish 
adventures that suggest a fairly bleak view of human nature and 
possibility: not least his encounters with two highly sexualised 
and deadly dangerous android femmes fatales played by Joanna 
Cassidy and Daryl Hannah. It is, however, in its setting in the 
Los Angeles of 2019 that Blade Runner is at its most powerfully 
deflationary. Scott's city is dark, chromatically and otherwise, and 
presents us with an environment that is futuristic and high-tech 
yet also rainy, decaying, garbage-littered and lethal. The earth is 
increasingly inhabited by the dregs of humanity, most of those 
with the resources to emigrate off-world having done so; and the 
determinant power of corporate capital and the efficacy of cynical 
economic motives are growing. Given the exaggeration, through 
futuristic science-fictional means, of classically deflationary noir 
motifs, Blade Runner might be described as ultra-non. 

Yet the dialectical complexity of the film is such that its fusion of 
SF with noir works not only to intensify the latter but also to open 
up some antithetical inflationary possibilities. In several particulars 
- the evidently sincere love, for instance, that the replicant leader 
Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) expresses for the 'pleasure model' Pris 
(Daryl Hannah), or the apparently reciprocated love that the 
replicant Rachael (Sean Young) feels for Deckard - the replicants 
that Deckard is charged with eliminating seem disturbingly human. 
Like Frankenstein (and, ironically, unlike Do Androids Dream of 
Electric Sheep?, Dick's 1968 SF novel upon which Scott's film is 
loosely based), Blade Runner thus works to expand the category 
of humanity itself, suggesting it to be more capacious and less 
easily defined than common-sense would assume. When Batty 
utters a dying speech of sublime poetic intensity - a speech that 
draws upon specifically science-fictional images ('attack ships on 
fire off the shoulder of Orion') to achieve a Shelleyan visionary 


force - new possibilities that transcend any simple human/android 
dichotomy are clearly in sight. This inflationary theme reaches its 
height in the movie's subtlest (and most hotly debated) element: 
the hint that Deckard himself is an android. 

Dark City clearly owes much to Blade Runner (as well as to 
Metropolis), but offers, I think, the most thoroughgoing dialectic 
of SF and noir yet achieved. As in Blade Runner -but more system- 
atically - an ultra-noir quality is achieved through science-fictional 
means. Perhaps no two-word phrase could more strongly suggest 
the world of noir than 'dark city'; s and Proyas's visual depiction 
of the night-time metropolis with abundant use of shadows and 
of sharp, diagonal camera angles - techniques that classic noir 
inherited from German Expressionism - conveys the quintessen- 
tial^ noir sense of alienation, disorientation and claustrophobic 
entrapment. Yet here the entrapment is taken to a science-fictional 
extreme and rendered terrifyingly literal. As the protagonist John 
Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) and the viewer gradually discover, the 
dark city is always and everywhere dark. It is both perpetual and 
completely self-contained, in the sense that no means of urban 
transport seems capable of taking one beyond the city limits; and 
no one can remember ever actually seeing the daylight. 'There is 
nothing beyond the city', as the strategically named Dr Daniel 
Poe Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) at one point tells Murdoch. The 
metropolis at night is typically the 'world' of classic film noir, but 
here it is the world in a precisely literal sense: for it eventually 
transpires that the city is not located anywhere on earth, but is an 
immense starship hurtling through outer space. The scene in which 
Murdoch and police detective Frank Bumstead (William Hurt) 
tear through a brick wall and find the starry vastness of space on 
the other side is a narrative masterstroke - at once surprising and 
yet suddenly making sense of so much that had been mysterious 
in the film to that point. 

Science-fictional means achieve a similarly ultra-noir effect in 
the film's presentation of human character. If the typical noir 
protagonist is a man driven by transpersonal forces like greed 
and lust, and equipped with only a limited grasp of his own 
motivations and an even more limited ability to determine his 


own fate, Murdoch is that protagonist raised to a higher power. 
As the film opens, Murdoch finds himself without memories - for 
memory is, of course, the indispensable pre-condition for human 
will or freedom - and wanted by the police in connection with 
a series of sadistic sex-murders about which he knows nothing. 
He also finds himself involved in a troubled marriage with a 
woman who claims to be his adulterous wife (Jennifer Connelly), 
but whom he cannot recognise. The explanation turns out to be 
that the city is under the control of a weird cabal of alien beings 
known as the Strangers, who are conducting experiments on 
the inhabitants in an attempt to learn about the human soul. 
The Strangers are constantly wiping out the memories of their 
captives and replacing them with new memories, so that they can 
observe how humans behave in a variety of circumstances. The 
deflationary determinism of noir is thus rendered technological 
and apparently irresistible. It is noteworthy that the Strangers' 
'imprinting' of their human subjects is achieved with old- 
fashioned hypodermic syringes that are frighteningly large and 
look extremely painful. Though the archaic hardware does not 
seem entirely coherent, logically, with the advanced technical 
achievements of the Strangers (who can travel through outer 
space and also 'tune' - that is, shape the material world by 
thought alone), the hypos serve a vital cinematic function as 
visual signifiers of the Strangers' brutal and oppressive rule. 

As an ultra-noir production, then, Dark City is deflationary and 
deterministic in ways that allegorise aspects of both Freudian and 
Marxist materialism. A psychoanalytic note is explicitly sounded 
by Dr Schreber's name, which combines the subject of one of 
Freud's greatest case-histories with the founder of American SF 
and horror fiction; and the way that the humans of the city are 
controlled by fluids directly injected into their heads recalls the 
psychoanalytic determinism that Freud himself always believed 
would eventually be grounded in the chemistry and biology of 
the brain. Similarly, the relation between the humans and the 
Strangers in the dark city provides a quasi-Marxist figure of class 
oppression. Indeed, the Strangers - with their unruffled sense of 
absolute superiority, their accents of icy, affectless detachment 


towards their human captives, and their total lack of moral scruple 
when it comes to manipulating those under their control - amount 
to a satiric caricature of a ruling class. The most memorable of 
the Strangers is their evident leader, Mr Book, played by Ian 
Richardson; and Richardson borrows heavily for his performance 
from one of his own finest roles, his then-recent portrayal of 
the monstrously reactionary and repressive Tory prime minister 
Francis Urquhart in the BBC's trilogy of miniseries, beginning 
with House of Cards (1990). 6 

Yet Dark City as an SF film not only raises film noir to a higher 
power but also - again, like Blade Runner, though again with 
greater emphasis and rigour - dialectically produces a powerful 
inflationary, and Utopian, theme that is the antithesis of noir. 
For much of the film, it appears that a Utopian alternative to 
noir actuality might be provided by Shell Beach, a seaside resort 
that Murdoch remembers as home. It is visually the opposite of 
the dark city - bright, sunny and colourful, rather than shadowy 
and monochromatic - and characters besides Murdoch recall it 
as a place of happiness and pleasure. A taxi driver, for example, 
remembers Shell Beach as the spot where he and his wife spent 
their honeymoon, and he thinks he knows right where it is; but, 
when pressed by Murdoch to describe exactly how to drive there, 
he finds he cannot. It turns out that nobody knows how to get to 
Shell Beach - the place is clearly marked on a subway map of the 
city, but it is impossible to find a train that actually goes there - and 
its Utopian promise is as illusory as Marx and Engels maintained 
the schemes of the Utopian socialists to be. For the memories of 
Shell Beach are false memories: not only in the narrative sense 
that they have been imprinted on the humans by the Strangers, 
but also in the larger philosophic sense that no object of mere 
nostalgia can possess authentic Utopian value. Utopia, as Ernst 
Bloch insisted, is necessarily geared to the future. It is no accident 
that the visual details of Shell Beach (displayed on postcards and 
the like) suggest a vacation resort of the American 1950s - the 
decade that constitutes the privileged image of social harmony 
for reactionary American ideology since the late 1960s. But such 
mere regression cannot provide escape from the dark city. 


What does offer escape - or rather inflationary transcendence 

- is transformative human labour and action. 'The only place 
home exists is in your head', as the always shrewd if sometimes 
traitorous Dr Schreber tells Murdoch. Perhaps more than 
he himself quite understands, Schreber's words point to the 
impeccably Marxist-Blochian principle that home - 'homeland' 
(Heimat), as Bloch himself puts it -can never be merely recovered 
but must be attained through the revolutionary work of social 
transformation that, as Marx insisted, necessarily begins in the 
human intellect and imagination. Dark City ultimately offers 
a figure of precisely such revolutionary transformation. About 
two-thirds of the way through the film, Murdoch, Bumstead 
and Schreber finally establish some bonds of human solidarity 

- Bumstead ceases to regard Murdoch primarily as a murder 
suspect, and Schreber ends his traitorous collaboration - in order 
to rebel against the Strangers' oppressive rule. Aided by Schreber's 
inside knowledge of the Strangers and, even more, by Murdoch's 
ability to tune - a talent that the Strangers had been confident was 
reserved exclusively to themselves - the humans prevail. Human 
freedom is possible after all, and the determining power of the 
ruling class, which had seemed unassailable, is broken. 

Dark City is thus, finally, and despite its noir or ultra-noir 
deflationary aspect, a work in the great inflationary tradition of 
Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93), Shelley's 
Prometheus Unbound (1820) and Beethoven's Fidelio (1805-14): 
a story of fetters broken and freedom attained. This upward 
narrative curve can be traced even in the film's most technical 
details. Proyas constructs the earlier part of his movie mainly 
through an accumulation of discrete shots, with little tracking 
or panning: and the effect is one of stasis, entrapment and 
determinism. But as the humans assert themselves and move 
against the Strangers' tyranny, the cameras begin to move as 
well, and a contrasting effect of progressive flow is achieved. 
Speaking for humanity, Murdoch - who all along has been a 
kind of ordinary Everyman - announces his ability to 'make this 
world anything I want it to be': and he suits his actions to his 
words. He succeeds in tuning an entire ocean, water being both the 


indispensable basis of human life and the substance to which the 
Strangers have the greatest aversion. The film ends in a gloriously 
bright and colourful ocean-side scene that is as far from the visual 
style of noir as possible. The tableau recalls the pictures we have 
seen of Shell Beach; yet the film is careful not to identify the two. 
Shell Beach was a mere regressive wish, but this is the real thing, 
the real product of human thought and action. We leave Murdoch 
to begin a love relationship with the Jennifer Connelly character, 
who is no longer burdened with the false memories of having 
been Murdoch's cheating wife. It is the sort of visionary, material 
transcendence that has always been what SF does best - and that, 
of course, has, at least since the final lines of The Communist 
Manifesto, been the ultimate point of Marxism itself. 


1. See Carl Freedman, 'On Kubrick's 2001: Form and Ideology in Science- 
Fiction Cinema', in Freedman, The Incomplete Projects: Marxism, 
Modernity, and the Politics of Culture (Middletown: Wesleyan 
University Press, 2002), pp. 91-1 12. 

2. Ernst Bloch, 'Marxism and Poetry', in The Utopian Function of Art and 
Literature: Selected Essays, transl. Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg 
(Cambridge: MIT Press, 1988), p. 163 (emphasis added). 

3. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 3, transl. David Fernbach (New York: 
Vintage, 1981), p. 959 (emphasis added). 

4. My comments on Blade Runner refer to the significantly different 
1992 'director's cut'; in most discussion of this much-discussed film 
the latter version is (I think rightly) considered definitive. 

5. Dark City is, indeed, the title of a film noir, directed by German emigre 
William Dieterle in 1950. 

6. Followed by To Play the King (1993) and The Final Cut (1995). 



John Rieder 

Nearly everyone who has written about Wim Wenders' epic- 
length 1991 SF film Until the End of the World (UTEOTW) 
has commented upon the global scope of both its production 
and its plot, and while some praise it as the pinnacle of 
Wenders' distinguished career, negative opinions range from 
bemusement over its zany but chaotic energy to condemnation 
of its Eurocentric exploitation of non- Western landscape. 1 But 
the way the film's mise-en-scene engages exoticising, Eurocentric 
discourses is more complex and more critically acute than the 
film's detractors recognise. For the matter of colonial history is 
everywhere in Wenders' film - not only in the global crisis that 
acts as its premise, but also in the corporate competition that 
motivates the secretive location of a cutting-edge research facility 
in the Australian outback, in the tensions between therapeutic 
intervention and invasion that characterise the research project 
itself, in the dissonance between hospitality and assimilation that 
bedevils the indigenous Australians who donate space and labour 
to the project, and in the interweaving of romance and tourism in 
the adventures of its white protagonists. Moreover, these pervasive 
colonial references are integral to the film's generic texture. 
That is, one cannot read the film fully - or even adequately - as 
long as the colonial matter is taken to be merely the superficial 



decoration of a road film or the exotic backdrop of a tale of 
romance and international intrigue. 2 The colonial matter is crucial 
because such concerns are endemic to SF, and understanding their 
significance in the film involves attending to its engagement of that 
generic history. Although the film fails to extricate itself from the 
ideologies implicit in its colonial premises, neither does it simply 
rehearse them. It alternately exposes colonialism's durable impact 
on SF, indulges in colonialist fantasies, and critically subverts the 
ideological basis of those same fantasies. The film's sustained, 
ambivalent engagement with SF's generic debt to colonialism 
makes it both a symptomatic and an estimable work of art. 

This argument is worth making not only because it is always 
worthwhile to extricate a thoughtful work from misunderstand- 
ing, but also because of the questions raised by the unevenness 
and contradictions of the film's production, distribution and 
reception. The production of UTEOTW was something of a 
fiasco. Wenders exhausted a budget of $20-odd million in the 
course of filming on four continents, forcing him to abandon the 
planned finale in Africa. To make matters worse, the film flopped 
disastrously at the box office upon its release in December 1991. 
Nonetheless, as the movie made the art-house circuit over the 
next few years (and as its distinguished soundtrack CD proved 
to have considerably more commercial appeal than the initial 
release of the film itself), it began developing a reputation as 
an underground masterpiece. The film's elite status was further 
enhanced in the mid 1990s, when Wenders issued a director's cut, 
screened for carefully selected audiences, that expanded the 158- 
minute commercial release, produced under his studio contract's 
stipulations as to length, into a 280-minute trilogy. Currently this 
version is available on DVD in Europe (as Bis ans Ende der Welt: 
Director's Cut), but contractual issues continue to prevent its 
release in North America, where the studio cut, once available on 
VHS, has also gone out of print. The tangle of commercial, legal 
and artistic issues in this saga suggests that the film's remarkably 
uneven reception is not simply a result of its internal strengths 
and defects, but rather conforms to the complicated terrain of its 
production and distribution. 


This suspicion draws added force from Carl Freedman's 
argument that SF 'cinema is ... structured on an immense and 
perhaps disabling contradiction' between 'the anti-conceptual bias 
of its most fundamental formal resource: special effects' and the 
critical impulses that make SF narrative, at its best, what Darko 
Suvin calls the literature of cognitive estrangement. 3 The crux of 
Freedman's thesis is that the spectacle of special effects tends to 
overpower the cognitive, analytic impulse motivating the effects 
of estrangement that he, like Suvin, sees as being crucial to SF. If 
elaborating an estranged but plausible and coherent setting is one 
of SF's most important formal obligations, the power of spectacle 
in SF cinema typically threatens to evacuate this procedure of its 
exploratory, speculative qualities and replace them with mere 
sensory overload. Instead of being called upon to think, as in 
Brechtian theatre, the viewer is merely absorbed. Freedman 
presents this contradiction between cognitive estrangement and 
special effects in formal terms, but I would ask what substance 
we can assign to generic form itself, unless it is lodged in the 
repetitive force of commercial and cultural pressures upon 
narrative production and reception. Wenders' treatment of setting 
and special effects bears the burden of such pressures, and his 
different versions of UTEOTW respond to them in tellingly 
different ways. 

SF and the World Market 

The plot of UTEOTW, with global crisis and panic-driven 
migrations in the background and its central characters' 
whirlwind tour from Europe to Asia to the Australian outback 
in the foreground, maps itself onto a well-established generic and 
planetary geography of imperial centre and frontier. Just as the 
emergence and consolidation of industrial economies in Europe 
and North America is unthinkable without the expropriation of 
raw materials, the exportation of commodities, and the migration 
of people from and into territories under western colonial and 
imperial control, so SF is shaped throughout its history by the 
imaginary relationship of the European (and later American) 


economic core to the periphery or 'contact zone' between 
capitalist and non-capitalist economies and western and non- 
western cultures. 4 UTEOTW enacts this relationship through 
two well-established SF tropes - the technological breakthrough 
or fantastic invention, and its counterpart, the plot of technology 
going out of control and threatening to destroy its makers. The way 
Wenders handles these two motifs clearly exposes their common 
ground in the capitalist dynamics of technical innovation, market 
competition and colonial-imperial governance. 

That the breakthrough invention is one of SF's oldest and most 
durable conventions testifies to the genre's close relationship 
with industrial capitalism's fierce drive for technical innovation. 
From its beginnings SF has been fascinated with marvellous 
machines and problems of engineering. More important than 
this fascination with gadgetry, though, has been SF's reflection 
upon the economic and social impact of such innovations - the 
competitive advantage technical innovation gives its possessors in 
the market, and the military and political power it gives them over 
the rest of the world. Thus SF and modern industrial arms races 
have walked hand-in-hand from their beginnings. 5 Furthermore, 
one of the keys to SF's imaginary 'contact zone' is the uneven 
distribution of technology across a spatial geography that the 
ideology of progress codes as a temporal one. In the ideological 
environment of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, 
where the industrially developed world saw non-industrialised 
cultures as survivals of its own pre-industrial past, possession of 
the technological breakthrough was tantamount to ownership 
of the present itself - a logic which relegated those who did not 
have it to the residual past. For the ultimate nightmare driving 
the arms races of modernity, dramatised in an invasion fantasy 
like H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds (1898), is the industrial 
and imperial core's fear of being turned into the pre-industrial 
and colonised periphery, and so, according to the temporal logic 
of the ideology of progress, of being subjugated as inevitably as 
the future supersedes the past. Therefore the play of inclusion and 
exclusion, and the fantasies of power and impotence that circulate 
in the vicinity of the technical innovation, have throughout SF's 


history lent their ambivalence to the genre as a whole, with its 
dreams of conquest over space, time, disease, poverty and war 
always counterbalanced by its Frankenstein monsters, fantasies 
of invasion and apocalyptic disasters. 

The trope of the breakthrough invention governs the foreground 
of most of UTEOTW, dictating the movements of its main 
characters across Europe and Asia to North America, and finally 
Australia. The marvellous invention itself is a camera that, instead 
of recording light, records the neurological impulses of the brain 
in the act of seeing. The initial goal of the camera's inventor, the 
conventionally egomaniacal and obsessed Dr Farber (Max von 
Sydow), is to reproduce images that can be communicated to 
his blind wife, Edith (Jeanne Moreau). The project of collecting 
these images leads his son, Sam Farber (William Hurt), on the 
long journey that turns into the film's extended chase sequence. 
The disguises and zaniness of the chase rest, finally, on the secrecy 
Farber has been forced into in order to keep the project focused on 
his personal goal, and hence to keep the camera out of the hands 
of the US government, who claim to own it because they at some 
point sponsored his research. The same secrecy accounts for his 
relocation to a hidden underground laboratory in the outback. 
Thus the plot in its entirety moves steadily towards a condensation 
of the technological frontier - possession and operation of the 
camera - with the geographical 'end of the world' represented 
by the Australian laboratory; and it interweaves this movement 
with the approach of the other end of the world: the apocalyptic 
catastrophe that looms in the background. 

The dynamics of economic competition in the foreground are 
matched by those of political competition in the background, 
in which an Indian 'rogue' nuclear satellite has gone out of 
control and threatens to wreak apocalyptic destruction on the 
planet, inspiring panicky evacuations in the path of the satellite's 
possible impact and heated international controversy about how 
to deal with the threat. One might well compare these disorderly 
proceedings with the pristine solution to the threat of nuclear 
aggression offered in The Day the Earth Stood Still (Wise, 1951): 
if Earth's squabbling nations will not abandon their aggression, 


which is threatening to spill out into space, then the guardian 
robots of an advanced extraterrestrial civilisation will rain down 
global destruction. In contrast to the Cold War fantasy of the 
benevolent super-cop imposing world harmony, the contemporary 
international world order exposed in UTEOTW looks exactly like 
what Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri a few years later would 
describe as post-imperialist Empire: an endless exercise in crisis 
management, with the terrifying wild card of US unilateralism in 
the place of Leviathan. 6 The tension between the foreground and 
background plots, then, lays over the entire film a conflict between 
individual autonomy (both in terms of the market and of individual 
desire) and collective political determination (a determination as 
capricious as classical fate). The repeated solution to this conflict is 
the decision to go off the grid, enacted on the individual level early 
in the film by Claire Tourneur's (Solveig Dommartin) defiance of 
her comically insistent dashboard computer's warnings that she 
is driving off the map; throughout the film by the Farbers' flight 
to the Australian outback; and, most tellingly, by the explosion 
of the nuclear satellite in the centre of the film, which temporarily 
disconnects everyone in the film from the rest of the world - and, 
for a time, seems to have eliminated the grid itself. 

Going off the grid turns out to be impossible, however. The 
world lives through the nuclear explosion, the US government 
catches up with Farber, and Claire Tourneur's romantic adventure 
finally installs her, not outside the grid, but within and against 
it, operating counter-surveillance of 'environmental crime' 
aboard a Greenpeace satellite. The ultimate impossibility of 
extricating oneself from the devices of corporate competition or 
the international anarchy of contemporary imperialism resounds 
throughout the film's final movement, when Doctor Farber turns 
his camera to the task of recording dreams. Farber's inward 
journey of exploration is both illusory and disastrous. The 
recordings themselves hardly resemble actual dreams. Instead 
these completely silent, garishly colored video clips are aggressively 
stylised constructions that, instead of penetrating the depths, 
evacuate interiority. Nonetheless, the dream images exercise a 
narcissistic fascination that wholly absorbs and debilitates the 


film's internal spectators. Thus the dream recordings - which in 
their extent, their oblique narrative content, and their overlaying 
of filmic treatments on landscape footage, forcibly recall the 'light 
show' sequence at the end of 2001 - precisely depict cinematic 
absorption overpowering narrative articulation, bodying forth 
a horrific version of the anti-cognitive tendency of cinematic SF 
described by Freedman. UTEOTW turns the generic, formal 
contradiction between spectacle and narrative into the internal 
self-contradiction that the film simultaneously depends upon 
Farber's invention for its most striking cinematography and 
condemns it for spreading, as the narrator calls it, the 'disease 
of images'. But UTEOTW also models the congruence of that 
contradiction with the flows and concentrations of power, capital 
and populations exposed in its mise-en-scene. The addictive dream 
recordings, in this light, represent the latest form of capitalist 
invasion, the penetration of the viewers by what Guy Debord 
would call 'the pseudoneeds imposed by modern consumerism 
... an unlimited artificiality which overpowers any living desire'. 7 
Connecting this hyperbolic rendition of passive consumption to 
the film's engagement with colonial ideology, I now suggest, entails 
following the thread of Wenders' allusion in the dream scenes to 
the 'light show' sequence in 2001. 

Progress and Passivity in 2007 

Kubrick's 2001 is a watershed in the history of SF cinema 
from a technical standpoint, because its production values, and 
particularly the sophistication of its sets and special effects, set 
a new standard for the genre. But from an ideological point of 
view 2001 is less a breakthrough than a culmination of the SF 
cinema of the 1950s, with its male-dominated military-scientific 
environment, its fascination with high-tech engineering and, as 
I will demonstrate, its colonialist ideology. Thus it is not an 
arbitrary choice, but rather one deeply embedded in UTEOTWs 
play on colonial themes and its engagement of SF tradition, that 
makes Dr Farber's blind wife, the supposed beneficiary of his 
research project, a practitioner of that paradigmatic colonial 


discipline, anthropology. For 2001 itself begins with an extended 
exercise in evolutionary anthropology, the prehistoric 'Dawn of 
Man' sequence. The relation of this opening vignette to the rest 
of the film is crucial both to its internal thematics and to its 
bearing on UTEOTW. 

The problem of interpreting the 'Dawn of Man' sequence is 
encapsulated in the ambiguity of its famous ending, when the ape- 
man, having used a bone to club an enemy to death and establish 
his group's territorial dominance over the local waterhole, 
flings his weapon into the air in triumph. A shot of the bone 
in mid-flight cuts to a space station in free-falling orbit around 
the planet, establishing an identity between the primitive tool 
and the space station, thereby positing the bone-weapon as the 
origin and essence of human technology. This identity, stretching 
across untold thousands of years, stands in sharp contrast to the 
leap from ape to man we have just witnessed, both unfolding its 
profound ramifications and preparing the narrative's representa- 
tion of the next sublime evolutionary leap in the film's finale. Yet 
the same gesture that equates the most primitive and the most 
advanced human technology also suggests that the struggle over 
the waterhole is an epitome of human history, and that the crux 
of technical innovation and scientific discovery - at the waterhole 
as in the secretive arrangements that surround the discovery of 
the monolith on the moon - is the empowerment of its possessors 
to separate themselves from and dominate their opponents. The 
cut, then, denotes progress and stasis at the same time, and so 
injects a certain chilling irony into the 'Blue Danube' waltz of the 
spaceship into the station. 

This contradiction is in one way typical of colonial ideology, 
and in another way peculiar to this narrative - although this 
peculiarity partakes of an even more crucial ideological strategy. 
What is typical, first of all, is the play of identity and difference in 
the colonial encounter between the civilised and the primitive, such 
that the primitive, curiously observed in all its bizarre otherness, 
nonetheless displays the secret of civilisation's primal self. The 
bone-to-spaceship cut, by capturing that play, powerfully evokes 
the pervasive ambivalence with which the colonial imaginary 


invests the exotic other and condenses that ambivalence into the 
conjuncture of a myth of origins and an ideology of progress. But 
more to the point is the cut's coherence with the peculiar relation 
between evolutionary progress and technological innovation in 
2001 . The intervention of the monolith has the effect, first of 
all, of making the ape-man's discovery of tools into a gift. It is, 
in fact, the gift of development that - like the super-robot of 
The Day the Earth Stood Still - the benevolent, super-civilised 
aliens bestow upon the primitive, but potentially human (or more- 
than-human), apes to set them on the path towards civilisation. 
Therefore, as the cut so economically reveals, the evolutionary 
path from the waterhole to the space station is plotted from the 
outset, its teleology inscribed in the gift itself. 

This predetermination of the path of evolution leads to a second, 
more consequential peculiarity in the plot of 2001: the essential 
passivity of the human recipients of the gift of development. They 
are simply following a route laid out for them by the aliens, 
or rather pointed out by the aliens but channelled in the very 
structure of things. Humanity will inevitably find the monolith 
buried on the moon if it follows the true way of development, 
because the technology of space travel is the preordained apex 
of this stage of human civilisation, and its driving rationale of 
territorial expansion is the motor of history and a law of nature. 
Technology has its own logic, revealed in the bone-to-spaceship 
cut, and that autonomy of the tool with relation to its user will 
develop into 200Vs most gripping episode: the attempted takeover 
of the Jupiter mission by the computer HAL. The same essential 
passivity, the near absence of real human agency, accounts, I 
think, for the utter banality of the bureaucrat Heywood Floyd's 
(William Sylvester) dialogue and the disturbingly flat affect of 
the astronauts. 8 The heroes of the middle section of 2001 are 
the sets, especially the exceptionally well-crafted interiors of the 
various space vehicles, rather than the humans who inhabit them. 
From the bone-to-ship cut on, the film develops an intractable 
doubt as to whether the humans really guide their own journey or 
whether, not just the various ships and tools, but the entire plot of 
development traps them inside a vehicle essentially beyond their 


control. Even Dave Bowman's (Keir Dullea) victory over HAL 
does not resolve this doubt, because it only delivers him to the 
passive position of passenger to the next stage of development, 
recipient of the gift at the end of the road from the waterhole. 

The resemblance of this passivity to that of the dream-image 
addicts in UTEOTW, and between the two films' portrayal of 
the conflict between individual autonomy and collective fate, is 
based on their shared historical and ideological field. For the plot 
of 2001 constitutes a rewriting of evolution as colonialism. The 
epiphanic transformation of apes into humans in the 'Dawn of 
Man' has nothing to do with natural selection and everything to do 
with the gift of development. 2001 's rendering of contact between 
the indigenous culture of the apes and the technological gifts of 
the more mobile culture of the aliens repeats a time-honoured 
rhetorical pattern that combines reification (development is not 
culturally specific but inscribed in nature) with apologetics (the 
alien gift-givers are benevolent, disinterested donors who are 
rescuing the natives from being exiled from history). For all its 
technical virtuosity, the final section of 2001 does not make any 
thematic or critical leap beyond its predecessors comparable to 
Bowman's leap beyond Homo sapiens. 

What it does accomplish, however, is a startling artistic climax 
to the film's blending of high art (abstract visual material, the 
modernist music of Ligeti) with its popular narrative genre 
(the evolutionary leap as a well-established SF trope) and mass 
cultural appeal, as witness the audiences who left the film blown 
away by the 'light show'. That the formal contradiction between 
cinematic absorption and narrative estrangement should also 
become vividly apparent in this sequence is no accident, but 
rather the consequence of Kubrick's success at blending high, 
popular and mass cultural elements. At the same time, the very 
obscurity of Kubrick's finale would seem to reiterate the play of 
inclusion and exclusion that joins the plot of the technological 
breakthrough to that of the colonial frontier. The stunning power 
of Kubrick's spectacle (which, according to Freedman, thematises 
the formal impossibility of cinematic SF) epitomises once again the 
ambiguous benefits of the gift. Is Bowman as Star-Child a figure of 


the audience's sublime transformation? Or is he a better figure for 
what the film denies the audience, his calm gaze so utterly different 
from the passive, dumbfounded reception the finale inevitably 
evoked? Freedman is correct that, considered as a pinnacle of 
cinematic SF, 2001 simultaneously proclaims a kind of generic 
defeat. Let me add, however, that Kubrick's achievement takes 
much of its equivocal tenor from its ideological environment, the 
contact zone of colonial anthropology. 

Spectacle and Apocalypse in UTEOTW 

In a comparison between the dream-machine sequences in the 
latter section of UTEOTW and the light-show sequence in 2001, 
Wenders' handling of spectacle certainly emerges as more self- 
reflexive and critically acute. Instead of 200Vs mimesis of the 
alien visitors' humanly incomprehensible forms of travel and 
communication, UTEOTW represents the products of a camera 
that literally alienates its subjects' dreams, in the Hegelian sense 
of exteriorising the products of mental labour. This transforms 
Bowman's passivity in the hands of a transcendent destiny into 
a clear-cut representation of the audience's absorption in tech- 
nologically mediated images of their own desire. The gift of 
development, instead of raising its recipients to the next stage 
of an evolutionary hierarchy, turns them into addicts, dependent 
upon the new technology for their abjected self-recognition. 
In addition, Wenders locates Dr Farber's gift in the context of 
multinational capitalist R&D and international 'new world 
order' political crisis management. Bowman's isolation is first 
an effect of accident, in the drama of HAL's breakdown, and 
then of distinction, in his final transformation. The isolation of 
the dream-machine's subjects is instead presented as 'the disease 
of images'. Their narcissistic, quasi-hallucinatory entrapment 
suggestively links together Farber's egocentricism, the tainted gifts 
of development, and the possessive individualism of the market 
and military competition that has driven Farber's research project 
itself into the outback. 


The same critical edge might be discerned in UTEOTWs version 
of anthropology, which is so pointedly opposed to that which 
underlies the plot of 2001 that it would seem to reflect a paradigm 
shift in the discipline. Edith Farber's work emphasises community 
and cultural practices (like the recorded song of the African 
pygmy children that helps to establish the romantic attraction 
between Sam and Claire) rather than territoriality, dominance and 
weapons - perhaps in keeping with a late-twentieth-century shift 
in human evolutionary models that connects sexual choice with 
linguistic proficiency and gathering skills, rather than with male 
strength and hunting skills. 9 The relationship she has established 
with the Mbantua would seem to indicate that, instead of the 
reified notion of development operating in 2001, her brand of 
anthropology recognises cultural difference without assuming it 
to be hierarchical or inscribing it in a narrative of progress. 

Unfortunately, the film does not manage the break from colonial 
ideology for which all of this might lead us to hope. For example, 
the film's respect for non-western traditional wisdom is not so 
much anti-colonial as a nostalgic exercise in which a temporary 
retreat from modernity helps the tourist subject recover from its 
deleterious effects - as in the romantic interlude spent by Sam and 
Claire at a rural inn in Japan, where an old herbalist cures the 
injuries Farber's camera has inflicted on Sam's eyes. 10 Later, in a 
similar fashion, Sam's Mbantuan family uses traditional methods 
to help him recover from the psychological effects of the camera's 
dream recordings. But the entire rendering of the Farbers' extended 
Mbantuan family is flawed by an exceptionalism all too familiar to 
colonial fantasy. Just as Sam and Claire are the only guests at the 
Japanese inn, and the entire effect of the episode would be ruined 
if the place were crowded with other white guests seeking herbal 
cures, the status enjoyed by the Farbers among the Mbantua is 
more a kind of privileged access to a pre-modern refuge than the 
formation of an anti-colonial alliance. 

That privileged access works to a somewhat more complex 
effect in the mise-en-scene of Farber's laboratory, so that it 
discloses the contradictions surrounding colonial ideology, global 
space and indigenous knowledge in the film. The cave where 


Farber has relocated his experiments after fleeing from the US 
government appears to be, or to have been, a space specially 
marked by the Mbantua people, since one reaches it via a tunnel 
decorated with aboriginal pictography. Thus the capitalist and 
imperialist dynamics that generate secrecy around western 
technical innovation are almost literally superimposed upon 
an aboriginal architecture that apparently articulates access to 
the cave with duties and responsibilities, and perhaps enforces 
a separation between the sacred and the profane. Although the 
white scientists are the guests of the Mbantua, the laboratory 
is a geopolitical space that parasitically attaches itself to and 
threatens to empty of significance the radically differently 
configured space of its aboriginal host." The instability of this 
arrangement eventually asserts itself when the research team falls 
apart into its white and aboriginal components. From their first 
appearance, the frock-coated aboriginal technicians in Farber's 
laboratory look like the subjects of an updated missionary fantasy, 
proving their humanity by becoming just like the white man, who 
nonetheless remains superior and in charge. It is entirely to the 
film's credit that it refuses this resolution of cultural difference 
by univocal assimilation, and moreover makes it absolutely clear 
that Farber's refusal of reciprocity - his neglect of the duties of 
mourning enjoined upon him by Mbantuan protocol after Edith's 
death - causes the partnership to fail. It is also to the film's credit 
that this failure does not simply erase the critical potential of 
Edith's anthropology, but rather defeats it in an open struggle 
with Farber's bald rationale for ignoring the Mbantuan rites: 'I'm 
a white fellow, you know'. 

It is no coincidence that the host-parasite relation between 
Farber's project and the Mbantuan cave resembles the tensions 
between the spaceship and its human inhabitants in the central 
section of 2001 , because the ambiguous role of the white heroes as 
guests or invaders matches the ambiguities surrounding autonomy 
and destiny noted earlier, and all are inherent in the colonial 
underpinnings of the narratives. Similar host-parasite tensions 
run through the most thoughtful science fiction cinema of the 
period between 2001 and UTEOTW, such as Alien (Scott, 1979) 


and Blade Runner (Scott, 1982). UTEOTW cannily makes the 
colonial dynamics of hospitality, settlement and invasion explicitly 
and tellingly intimate with the tensions of inclusion and exclusion 
surrounding the technical innovation. The main figure for this 
intimacy is the extended Farber-Mbantua family formed out 
of Edith's anthropological research, but the Farber family itself 
turns out to be a complex and shifting figure that places the 
ultimate instability of the Farber-Mbantua partnership in its 
global context. 

There are, in fact, three Farber families, each of which 
articulates a different aspect of colonial and post-colonial history 
and ideology. The Farbers' nuclear family, dominated by the 
Oedipal competition and self-absorbed passions of father and 
son, is ultimately a figure for the blind colonial settler. The key 
point here is that Farber - like the patriarch of all mad scientists, 
Victor Frankenstein - combines his wonderful technical expertise 
with stunning emotional ignorance, and he ultimately turns this 
ignorance into the active principle guiding his interactions with 
the Mbantua. In contrast, the Farbers' extended western family 
- with its global dispersion motivated, first, by the Nazi holocaust, 
and more recently by corporate and governmental competition 
over possession of the camera - exemplifies the crisis-plagued 
fragmentation and incoherence of the international order. The 
aboriginal family, finally, offers its hospitality and alternative 
values as that more or less effective, more or less hallucinatory 
or impossible, locus of escape from the dominant order - an 
escape that the indigenous, exotic other consistently signifies in 
the colonial imaginary. 

The three Farber families come together to the best effect 
in the section of the film between the explosion of the rogue 
satellite and Edith's death. The key is that the explosion of the 
satellite suspends all global power relations. The survivors who 
gather in the Mbantuan refuge do not know whether they are 
merely isolated temporarily or are already inhabitants of a post- 
apocalyptic world, living in a new 'Dawn of Man'. The three 
family networks dictate three distinct responses to this situation. 
First, the Farber nuclear family goes on in exactly the same mode 


as before the explosion, ignoring the world at large and moving 
forward with development of the experimental camera. Second, 
Edith, having been given the gift of sight in these experiments, 
surveys her dispersed family and, in reviewing their history and 
her own, seems forced to recapitulate the ongoing crisis of western 
modernity - moving from her youth, when she met Farber as a 
fellow refugee from the Nazi holocaust, through the recent past, 
when struggles over rights to the camera forced them to go into 
hiding and lose contact with their children, to the present, when 
she is surrounded by refugees from the nuclear explosion. She 
responds by sinking into depression and death. Third, in refreshing 
contrast to the obsessions and recriminations surrounding the first 
two alternatives, an odd patchwork community forms among 
the refugees in the Mbantuan enclave. The main figures Wenders 
uses for this community are music and storytelling, with the film's 
narrator, Eugene Fitzpatrick (Sam Neill), serving as spokesman 
both for the film's optimism and for its generic orientation: 'The 
present will look after itself, but it's our duty to realise the future 
with our imagination'. 

Of these three responses to the suspension of global territoriali- 
sation in the current world order, the director's cut most expands 
and elaborates upon the third, which is only hinted at in the 
shorter commercial release. Here is where the political economy 
of contemporary cinema has its most evident impact on the film. 
It seems clear that the editing of the commercial version produced 
a concentrated focus on the Farber family's Oedipal triangle, at 
the expense of the more diverse unfolding of relationships among 
the 'secondary' characters that the director's cut elaborates in the 
Mbantuan refuge. Thus the commercial release focuses steadily 
on the laboratory and the camera - that is, on the cutting edge 
of technical innovation and the quasi-heroic action that defines 
the lab as a colony of the centre settled upon and transforming its 
peripheral surroundings; whereas the director's cut allows itself 
to explore much more thoroughly the space of the refuge, where 
a community is forming that has no ideology of progress, and 
is not driven by an economic demand for technical innovation, 
but on the contrary is simply trying to reinvent the possibility 


of a future in the face of modernity's hitherto self-destructive 
history. I do not want to exaggerate the critical power of the 
interlude in the Mbantuan refuge, which also partakes of the 
touristic logic I have already mentioned. But in the difference 
between the studio version and the director's cut one can discern 
contrasting economies of plot and pace that clearly correlate, 
on the one hand, the expectations guiding production for first- 
run commercial venues with the aggressive colonial ideology 
endemic to most cinematic SF, and, on the other, those targeting 
the restricted audiences who first saw the director's cut with some 
sort of resistance to it. 

This suggests that the formal, aesthetic and thematic differences 
between the two versions correspond not just to the more or less 
complete realisation of Wenders' vision, but also to the structural 
tensions in the field of cultural production between the economies 
of mass circulation and an 'aristocracy of culture', as Bourdieu 
calls it, where prestige, scarcity, and distinction outweigh direct 
monetary benefits. 12 It would seem that, in contrast to Kubrick's 
success at synthesising such tensions, Wenders' commercial flop/ 
cult masterpiece both elaborates and succumbs to them. Yet 
his achievement is not merely another symptomatic failure of 
SF cinema to reconcile the genre's cognitive vocation with the 
commercial pressures of mass spectacle. Its self-reflexivity, its 
staging of apocalypse as the border between history and possibility, 
and its complex engagement with SF's colonial legacy make it one 
of the most substantial and important SF films of its decade. 


1. See Roger Ebert, 'Until the End of the World', Chicago Sun-Times, 
17 January 1992, available at, and 
Dimitris Eleftheriotis, 'Global Visions and European Perspectives', 
in Ziauddin Sardar and Sean Cubitt, eds, Aliens R Us: The Other 
in Science Fiction Cinema (London: Pluto, 2002), pp. 164-80. For 
a highly positive judgement in the first wave of reviews, see Vincent 
Canby, 'Review/Film: New Hat for Wenders: Daffy and Lighthearted', 
New York Times, 25 December 1991, available at http://movies2. Daniel Griffin later wrote that the film contains 'the 


single greatest scene concerning nuclear holocaust that I have ever 
seen' ('Until the End of the World', in Film as Art: Daniel Griffin's 
Guide to Cinema, available at 
website/untiltheendoftheworid.htm), and an anonymous reviewer 
on IMDb writes, '"Until the End of the World" is one of the most 
beautiful films of the 20th century. It is the pinnacle of Wim Wenders' 
career' (Bornjaded, 'Breathtaking and Permanent', posted 17 July 
2004 at 

2. As in Ebert, 'Until the End of the World', and Eleftheriotis, 'Global 
Visions', respectively. 

3. Carl Freedman, 'On Kubrick's 2001 : Form and Ideology in Science- 
Fiction Cinema', in The Incomplete Projects: Marxism, Modernity, 
and the Politics of Culture (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 
2002), p. 107. 

4. See John Rieder, Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction 
(Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2008). 

5. See I.F. Clarke, Voices Prophesying War: Future Wars, 1763-3749 
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), and H. Bruce Franklin, 
War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination (New 
York: Oxford University Press, 1988). 

6. See Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge: Harvard 
University Press, 2000). 

7. Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, transl. Ken Knabb 
(London: Rebel Press, n.d.), p. 34. 

8. As observed in Vivian Sobchack, Screening Space: The American 
Science Fiction Film (New York: Ungar, 1987) and Freedman, 'On 
Kubrick's 200V. 

9. See Donna Haraway, 'The Past is the Contested Zone: Human Nature 
and Theories of Production and Reproduction in Primate Behaviour 
Studies', in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of 
Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 21^12. 

10. This is not to mention the egregious stereotyping of the Japanese 
that also mars the earlier scene in the Tokyo hotel. 

11. On the usefulness of the frame of hospitality for analysing colonial 
encounters, see Paul Lyons, American Pacificism: Oceania in the US 
Imagination (New York: Routledge, 2006). 

12. On the 'aristocracy of culture', see Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: 
A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, transl. Richard Nice 
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), pp. 11-96; on the 
economies of profit and prestige in mass and restricted circulation, 
see Bourdieu's 'The Field of Cultural Production, or: The Economic 
World Reversed', Poetics 12 (1983), pp. 31 1-55. 

Part II 

When Worlds Collide 



Steven Shaviro 

The destiny of intelligent tool-using life [i]s to be a stepping-stone in the 
evolution of corporate instruments. 

Charles Stress 1 

Charles Stross's Accelerando (2005) is a post-Singularity novel, 
the best-known example of a small but growing SF subgenre. 
Post-Singularity SF endeavours to imagine, and work through the 
consequences of, what techno-futurists have called the Singularity. 
This is the supposed - and strictly speaking unimaginable - 
moment when the human race crosses a technological threshold, 
and definitively becomes posthuman. According to this scenario, 
the exponential growth in sheer computing power, together with 
advances in the technologies of artificial intelligence, nanomanu- 
facture and genetic manipulation, will utterly change the nature 
of who and what we are. Human beings will either be replaced 
by sentient machines, or (more likely) merge their brains and 
bodies with such machines. In addition to Accelerando, post- 
Singularity novels include Vernor Vinge's Marooned in Realtime 
(2004) - Vinge is in fact the inventor of the term and concept of 
the 'technological Singularity' 2 - and Cory Doctorow's Down and 
Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003). 

Of course, SF narratives have played with ideas of super- 
computers and superhuman intelligences for quite some time. 
But post-Singularity fiction in the strict sense takes off from the 
computing technologies of the 1990s and from the speculations of 
Vinge, Hans Moravec and especially Ray Kurzweil, self-described 
as 'one of the world's leading inventors, thinkers, and futurists, 



with a twenty-year track record of accurate predictions'. 1 Kurzweil 
explains the Singularity as follows: 

It's a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so 
rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed 
... this epoch will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning 
to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including 
death itself . . . Within several decades information-based technologies will 
encompass all human knowledge and proficiency, ultimately including 
the pattern-recognition powers, problem-solving skills, and emotional 
and moral intelligence of the human brain itself ... the changes [these 
technological developments] bring about will appear to rupture the fabric 
of human history/ 

He estimates that this transformation will occur no later than 
the year 2049. 

Though Kurzweil specifies that the Singularity is 'neither 
Utopian nor dystopian 1 , 3 the affinity of his vision with Utopian 
thought is clear. After the Singularity, Kurzweil assures us, health, 
wealth, and immortality - not to mention the coolest computer 
games and simulations ever - will be available, at no cost, to 
everyone. Scarcity will be a thing of the past. All barriers and 
binary oppositions will fall: 'there will be no distinction, post- 
Singularity, between human and machine or between physical and 
virtual reality'. 6 In this sense, the Singularity is about getting rid 
of our cumbersome bodies; as Kurzweil puts it, 'our version 1.0 
biological bodies are ... frail and subject to a myriad of failure 
modes'. 7 A post-Singularity upgrade to version 2.0 will get rid of 
most of these bugs; and 'with version 3.0 bodies', Kurzweil assures 
us, we will be 'able to morph into different forms at will'. 8 

But it isn't just our own bodies that Kurzweil wants to 'upgrade' 
or supersede. The Singularity is really about eliminating the 
resistance of the outside world to the instantaneous fulfilment of 
all our desires. It promises to overcome materiality in general. No 
doubt, Freud would call this an infantile fantasy of omnipotence. 
Modern science, from Copernicus to Darwin and beyond, is 
commonly seen as refuting such a fantasy by dethroning the 
human species from its delusion of 'centrality in the cosmos'. 9 


But the lesson of the Singularity, for Kurzweil, is that the age of 
such humiliations is over. For 'it turns out that we are central, after 
all', and the 'accelerating pace' of our technology 'will continue 
until the entire universe is at our fingertips'. 10 

The Singularity is thus fraught with theological significance. 
It is something like what Alain Badiou calls an Event: a decisive 
moment of creation and crystallisation 'which compels us to decide 
a way of being'. 11 Even before it happens, the mere thought of 
the Singularity - like Nietzsche's 'abysmal thought' of the Eternal 
Return, or St Paul's thought of the Resurrection - is a conversion 
experience that compels us to dedicate our lives to its Truth. 
'To truly understand [the Singularity]', Kurzweil says, 'changes 
one's view of life in general and one's own particular life'. 12 An 
orientation towards the future - even, or especially, towards an 
incomprehensible one - must alter your behaviour in the present. 
Kurzweil himself, for instance, 'takes more than 250 [vitamin] 
supplements daily, often in doses much larger than the US RDAs' 
and 'closely monitors or tests at least 50 measures of his own 
health' on a regular basis. 13 All this is to ensure that he stays alive 
long enough to make it to the Singularity, when he will be able 
to upload his mind onto the Net. 

Given the sensibility at work here, I can only agree with Tony 
Girard, the character in Ken MacLeod's The Cassini Division 
(1999) who sarcastically dismisses the Singularity as 'the Rapture 
for nerds'. 14 Now, Badiou invokes St Paul's conversion not 
for religious ends, but only in order to mobilise it for a new 
construction of Leninist revolutionary subjectivity. And such 
eminent Marxist critics as Fredric Jameson and Carl Freedman 
have long argued for the political implications - in contrast to 
religious ones - of the Utopian impulse in SF. 1 5 But where does this 
leave us with regard to the Singularity? Kurzweil's speculations 
are certainly Utopian, in that they envision a future world without 
scarcity or deprivation. And Kurzweil is as overtly anti-religious 
as Badiou or Jameson; the post-Singularity world, difficult as it 
may be to comprehend, is presented as a 'here and now', rather 
than as a transcendent afterlife. Yet, in striking contrast to any 
other Utopian fiction, Kurzweil spends scarcely a paragraph in 


his more than 600-pages-long tome discussing social and political 
issues. There's a brief passage about the necessity of developing 
'smart weapons' for 'cyberwarfare' and an equally brief section 
about the need to protect 'intellectual property' from unauthorised 
replication. 16 And that's about it. All the rest is minutely detailed 
technological discussion, with a heavy dose of extrapolation. 
Kurzweil's book is classic hard SF, if we leave aside its rather 
silly claim to be making 'accurate predictions'. But it's so narrow 
in its technological concerns, and in its single-minded claims for 
transformation and rupture, that it almost seems an inadvertent 
parody of the genre. 

The curious configuration of The Singularity is Near - its 
apolitical and asocial utopianism, and science- and technology- 
based millenarianism - is, of course, not accidental. For the 
whole point of Kurzweil's speculation - its ideological function, 
if you will - is precisely to bring us to Utopia without incurring 
the inconvenience of having to question our current social and 
economic arrangements. This is why Kurzweil supposes that the 
onward march of technology will produce the society of plenitude, 
all by itself - so long as government bureaucrats and religious 
fundamentalists do not interfere with entrepreneurial innovation. 
By a curious sleight of hand, even after a radical 'rupture' in 
the very 'fabric of human history', we witness the persistence 
of such features of our society today as private property, capital 
accumulation, branding and advertising, stringent copyright 
enforcement and, above all, 'business models' (with which 
Kurzweil seems curiously obsessed). 

The ideology-critique that I have just been sketching out is so 
obvious as to be scarcely worth pursuing. Except that Kurzweil's 
rather lame and unwitting attempt at SF only makes explicit a 
problem that haunts even the most brilliant, adventurous and 
inventive SF. This has to do with the weakness of the Utopian 
imagination, its failure to extend truly beyond present-day, 
capitalist horizons. As Jameson laments towards the end of his 
recent book on Utopian and science fiction, 


we have been plagued by the perpetual reversion of difference and otherness 
into the same, and the discovery that our most energetic imaginative 
leaps into radical alternatives were little more than the projections of our 
own social moment and historical or subjective situation: the posthuman 
thereby seeming more distant and impossible than ever! 17 

Slavoj 2izek makes a similar observation (though he is not 
referring to SF specifically) when he says that 'today it's much 
easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more 
modest change in capitalism'. is We have no trouble picturing 
the catastrophic breakdown of the capitalist order, and the 
extermination of human life on this planet; but we are scarcely 
able to envision a tolerable and pleasant world without money, 
without advertising, without brand names and without the vast 
inequities that characterise a capitalist economy. Kurzweil's book 
is only the crass exemplification of a much wider problem: the 
way that all thought today, even explicitly oppositional thought, 
has been colonised and appropriated in advance by the flows and 
metamorphoses of capital. 

To explore this dilemma, I turn from Kurzweil's own speculations 
to Charles Stross's far more interesting reworking of them in 
Accelerando. In this novel, Stross never mentions Kurzweil in 
particular, but he works with the general assumptions about the 
Singularity to which Kurzweil offers the best-known expression. 
Instead of questioning the dubious premises of Singularity thought, 
Stross pushes them to their most delirious consequences. The book 
tells the story of the supersession of human intelligence by artificial 
intelligence, as experienced by three or four generations of the 
Macx family (the exact number depends on whether you count 
a clone furnished with the memories, as well as the phenotype, 
of its ancestor as a separate generation). Accelerando starts in 
Amsterdam in the year 2010 with Manfred Macx, an 'agalmic 
entrepreneur'" who regularly patents business models and then 
gives them away for free, 'making strangers rich'. 20 Manfred 
is so dependent upon his 'personal area network' 21 and other 
wireless online computational prostheses that, deprived of them, 
he becomes a befuddled amnesiac, barely able to remember his 


own name, location and intentions. Accelerando ends on an 
artificial asteroid circling a brown dwarf (not-quite-star) called 
Hyundai* 4904 / S6 sometime in the twenty-third century, with 
Manfred's great-grandson Manni Macx (the aforementioned 
clone) existing simultaneously as a physical child, playing S&M 
war games with his little pals, and as an 'adult ghost', or mature 
intelligent construct, monitoring everything that happens from a 
virtual 'mindspace'. 22 

In between these starting and ending points, we get a plethora 
of florid nerd fantasies and wacky business plans. It is as if Stross 
had taken all his old issues of Wired magazine and run them 
through the linguistic and conceptual equivalent of a digital 
music sampler. At one point, Manfred decides to shed his human 
form, and downloads his mind into a flock of pigeons - which 
gives a whole new, literal, meaning to the idea of 'distributed 
intelligence'. At another, Manfred's grandson Sirhan schemes to 
'acquire a total lock on the history futures market, by having a 
complete archive of human experiences' on hand and available for 
download. 23 In the post-Singularity age, sex with strangers is less 
of a gamble than it used to be, because you can run a simulation 
and see what it will be like ahead of time. 24 There are also sentient 
simulated lobster minds running spaceships in the Oort cloud, 
'group minds' or 'borganisms' 25 who run other consciousnesses as 
software within their own, and characters who (thanks to cloning, 
memory downloading and faster-than-real-time life simulations) 
end up being older than their own mothers. 

In a certain way, Accelerando is closer to the space operas of 
Golden Age SF than it is to the cyberpunk fiction of the 1980s. 
Of course, Stross's exacerbated self-consciousness and tongue- 
in-cheek, hip attitude are not very Golden Age. And the novel's 
characters maintain a remarkable range of manias, tics and 
obsessions - from masochistic abasement to puritanical fear of 
sexuality to an almost hysterical lust for novelty - that would never 
have been dramatised in pre- 1960 SF. But at the same time, Stross's 
revelling in cheesy genre formulas, his love of wacky gadgets and 
surprising, yet ultimately logical, plot twists, and his book's utter 
lack of existential anguish or nihilistic posturing all suggest a 


will to write as if cyberpunk had never happened. It may be that 
Stross's insouciance and comic detachment, and his rejection of 
an all-too-human angst and negativity, are necessary strategies in 
order to come to terms with his subject. 'The rapture of the nerds' 

- and Stross uses the phrase, borrowed from MacLeod, several 
times in the course of the novel 26 - does not lend itself to the sort 
of terminal-wasteland introspection and film noir recyclings that 
were the stock-in-trade of the cyberpunk writers. 

The post-Singularity world of Accelerando is therefore not 
dystopian in the cyberpunk manner. Rather, it's a straightfor- 
ward techno-utopia. The 'necessary comforts of civilization' 27 

- which include neural implants and information access, as well 
as food, clothing and shelter - are available to everyone. The 
information network is wired directly into your brain. Thanks to 
'programmable matter' and nanomachines, any object you want 
can be instantaneously constructed with just a snap of your fingers. 
Poverty and war are eliminated. There are still class differences, 
as well as religious, ideological and political disagreements. But 
these never reach the point of actual conflict, since the contending 
parties find it far easier to ignore one another than to actually fight. 
(A 'killfile' function works in meatspace as well as VR, so that 
you can simply render irritating people invisible to you; it's great 
for cocktail parties.) The plot of Accelerando is nonetheless thick 
with political infighting, legal disputes and underhanded market 
manipulations; even after the Singularity, some things apparently 
never change. State and market are never explicitly contested; in 
the course of the novel, they just gradually wither away. By the 
last chapter, set in the twenty-third century, all human beings live 
in a world without scarcity. 'Life is rich ... endlessly varied and 
sometimes confusing', and grounded - much as it was before the 
pressures of scarcity led to states and to systematic processes of 
capital accumulation - in communities of human beings 'living 
in small family groups within larger tribal networks'. 28 

However, Accelerando also contains a counter-narrative, 
running alongside the melioristic (and vaguely Rousseauian) one 
that I have just described. The society of abundance envisioned in 
the novel is nonetheless 'a poverty-stricken backwater compared 


to its neighbors'. 29 These neighbours are societies composed, not of 
human beings, but of our 'mind children': 30 sentient, autonomous 
artificial intelligences (AIs), unencumbered by the limits of carbon- 
based biology. Stross - unlike Kurzweil, but following the deeper 
implications of his logic - posits two distinct lines of technological 
evolution. On the one hand, there are the computationally 
enhanced human beings who are the main subjects of Stross's 
narrative. On the other, there are the pure AIs: not cyborgs or 
hybrids, but an entirely new sort of entity. The human quest for 
technological enhancement - or, more accurately, for increased 
profits, since this is what really drives the process - leads to the 
event that we call the Singularity. But once this event has taken 
place, human beings are no longer at its centre. The Singularity 
gives birth to inhuman or posthuman AIs, and they are its true 
'historical subject'. The enhancements of human life recounted 
in the novel are only byproducts of the machinic evolution of 
artificial intelligence itself. 

Kurzweil likes to compare the 'high computational efficiency' 31 
of which thinking machines are capable with the 'severe limitations' 
of the human brain. 32 Such a distinction is taken for granted 
throughout Accelerando. In purely technological terms, the AIs 
evolve, or develop, much faster and further than is possible for 
merely enhanced human beings. Very quickly, the AIs exceed our 
powers of comprehension by several orders of magnitude. They 
are 'fundamentally better consciousness engines than us merely 
human types'. 33 This is a qualitative, as well as a quantitative, 
distinction. It isn't just that we don't know what these AIs want; 
beyond this, it is literally impossible for us to imagine what they 
might want. For they possess a higher-order consciousness than 
we do, existing on a meta-level in comparison to us: 'a posthuman 
can build an internal model of a human-level intelligence that is, 
well, as cognitively strong as the original. You or I may think 
we know what makes other people tick, but we're quite often 
wrong, whereas real posthumans can actually simulate us, inner 
states and all, and get it right'. 34 So much for the problem of 
'other minds'. 


Although Stross never spells this out explicitly, these posthuman 
intelligences are like nothing so much as what we know today as 
transnational corporations. Of course, corporations have long 
been considered 'persons' in the eyes of the law, even though they 
are not (yet) conscious entities (and even though they are exempt 
- unlike biological persons - from being incarcerated, tortured 
or put to death). Accelerando pushes this situation to its logical 
conclusion. Early in the novel, several of the characters realise 
that 'we need a new legal concept of what it is to be a person. One 
that can cope with sentient corporations' and other artifacts of the 
Singularity. 35 But it's not just that corporations become sentient. 
The converse is also the case: after the Singularity, all sentient 
AIs function as autonomous economic entities, 'slyly self-aware 
financial instruments'. 36 They exist only to accumulate capital, in 
the form of endless computation. The AIs have freed themselves 
from merely human parameters, shed their human origins and 
emerged as alien, predatory lifeforms. They strive to extract the 
maximum value (in the form of computational power) from all 
matter. Their focus is on efficiency and on endless self-expansion. 
They have no goals external to the processes of accumulation 
and expansion themselves. No measure of abundance can satiate 
their rapacious competitive drive. Merely enhanced human beings 
may have attained a state of abundance; but the posthuman AIs 
still live in a 'scarcity economy', because neither bandwidth nor 
matter is truly infinite. 37 

Accelerando provides a Stapledonian vision, albeit in brief, of 
'the stellar life cycle', the overall trajectory of AI civilisations. 38 The 
posthuman AIs quickly dismantle the solar system, pulverising the 
planets and asteroids in order to convert their 'dumb matter' into 
'computronium'. 39 In so doing, they force the remaining (merely 
enhanced) human beings further and further away from the sun: 
to Jupiter, then to Saturn, then to the Oort cloud, then finally 
out of the solar system altogether - which is why the remnants 
of humanity end up circling Hyundai* 4 ' 04 / J6 . Ultimately there is 
not room in the solar system for both them and us. The AIs 
'restructure the entire mass of their star system into a free-flying 
shell of nanocomputers, then more of them, Dyson spheres, shells 


within shells, like a Russian doll: a Matrioshka brain'. 40 But sooner 
or later they push their mania for accumulation to the point of 
implosion and extinction. The entire galaxy turns out to be littered 
with the ruins of dead or dying superintelligent civilisations: it is 
'a howling wilderness of degenerate data, fractally compressed, 
postconscious processes running slower and slower as they trade 
storage space for processing power'. 41 

What is the role of (enhanced) human beings - or of any 
other sentient, biological species that produces a technological 
Singularity - in all this? We are initially important to the AIs as 
sources of raw material, informational patterns to be simulated 
and assimilated. The precise way they use the information they 
extract from us 'is not known. (Possibilities include the study of 
history through horticulture, entertainment through live-action 
role-playing, revenge, and economic forgery)'. 42 But whatever 
may be the case, once our computational surplus value has been 
fully extracted, we are simply shunted aside by the AIs. In some 
instances, they still value us as 'sapient currency units', stockpiling 
us for 'future options trades in human species futures'. 43 But 
even this sort of utility is fairly limited. Sooner or later, we are 
slated for 

ethnic cleansing . . . You take people who you define as being of little worth, 
and first you herd them into a crowded ghetto with limited resources, then 
you decide those resources aren't worth spending on them, and bullets are 
cheaper than bread." 

The posthuman AIs have upgraded the old-fashioned 'free 
market' to 'the so-called Accelerated Salesman Infrastructure 
of Economics 2.0', a system that is 'more efficient than any 
human-designed resource allocation schema'. 45 Economics 2.0 
'replaces the single-indirection layer of conventional money, and 
the multiple-indirection mappings of options trades, with some 
kind of insanely baroque object-relational framework based 
on the parametrised desires and subjective experiential values 
of the players'. 46 In Economics 2.0, money has been abstracted 
to this metalevel in order to serve as a universal equivalent for 
all computation: 'quantized originality - that which allows 


one sentient entity to outmaneuver another'. 47 Merely human 
intelligence is incapable of participating in Economics 2.0 'without 
dehumanizing cognitive surgery'. 48 

Stross is extrapolating here, I think, from the present-day trade 
in derivatives, 'financial instruments that derive their monetary 
value from other assets, such as stocks, bonds, commodities, or 
currencies . . . derivatives represent a metalevel with respect to their 
underlying assets, a metalevel created by the fixed temporal interval 
in which they are exercisable'. 49 Derivatives are inseparable from 
the latest computing and communications technologies. They 
presuppose the ability to transmit large financial sums instan- 
taneously across the globe. And they defy any sort of intuitive 
representation, as they can only be expressed in terms of complex 
differential equations. 50 Derivatives are supposedly 'hedges' 
against the risks of turbulent currency markets (which is why 
the unregulated corporations that trade them are called 'hedge 
funds'). But in fact, derivatives increase turbulence and risk, and 
they are largely used for purposes of speculation. In all these ways, 
derivatives are money and credit raised to a higher power. 

Marx, in sharp contrast both to the classical political economists 
upon whom he drew, and the neoclassical and neo-liberal 
economists whose views are hegemonic today, always emphasised 
that money is not a neutral and transparent medium. Money's 
power of abstraction, its value-form as a universal equivalent, 
places its stamp on everything that is expressed in its terms, 
exchanged for it, or converted into it. But if money (together 
with credit) is already an abstraction, derivatives are 'doubly 
abstract ... abstract not only in the conventional sense of being 
removed from immediate ordinary reality ... but in the historically 
specific sense of objectifying different, globally distant, and incom- 
mensurable social relations as a single priced thing'. 51 Derivatives 
represent a higher level of what Marx called the fetishism of 
commodities, as they reify and commodify not only the social 
relations of production as manifested in manufactured objects, 
but a far wider and more diffuse set of social relations, which are 
all quantified under the rubric of 'risk'. 52 


As a result of this double abstraction, derivatives seem to flow 
freely in a space of their own, a virtual world of purely quantitative 
calculations. They seem to exemplify 'financial circulation as a 
play of decontextualised and naturally occurring market surface 
forms'." The autonomy of derivatives and financial markets 

- like the autonomy of technological development in Kurzweil's 
narrative - is, of course, ultimately an illusion. But it is, you 
might say, an objective illusion, which is to say a fantasy. It is 
a fantasy that, qua fantasy, actually operates in the world, with 
consequences that are perfectly real and often quite horrific. 
Indeed, 'the social and political power of financial derivatives 
are grounded in great measure on their appearing not to be social 
or political at all, but to simply express the mechanisms and 
profit goals of the market'. 54 The double abstraction of speculative 
financial instruments like derivatives is what gives them the power 
to devastate whole economies almost overnight (as has happened 
a number of times in the last decade). Magnified and extrapolated, 
such is the power of the posthuman AIs wielding Economics 2.0 
in Stross's narrative. 

The world of Accelerando never escapes the horizon of capital 
and its flows, because it remains circumscribed by the incompre- 
hensible logic of Economics 2.0. The novel's human characters 
can neither comprehend nor participate in this logic, but they are 
still subject to its effects. Their experience of relative abundance 

- which makes capitalist relations unnecessary - remains under 
siege by forces that seek to appropriate every surplus, thereby 
transforming abundance back into scarcity. This is why the 
best these human beings can do is hide in the backwater of a 
brown dwarf star, and hope that the convulsions that extinguish 
Economics 2.0 civilisations somehow pass them by. The absurdity, 
and yet inescapability, of this situation is highlighted when the 
human protagonists of Accelerando finally encounter sentient 
life from another star system. Not only does the alien entity take 
on the material form of a gigantic slug, but it turns out to be an 
'alien business model' - or more precisely a 'parasitic organism . . . 
the Economics 2.0 equivalent of a pyramid scheme crossed with 


a 419 scam'. 55 Never has the classic SF scenario of First Contact 
been so ludicrously deflated. 

Accelerando is a cynical, yet perversely cheerful, fiction for a 
time when the Utopian imagination seems to have been depleted. 
The problem is not that we cannot imagine otherness, so much as 
that whatever otherness we imagine is immediately mobilised as a 
'business model', once more serving to promote the accumulation 
of capital. Capitalism today is itself directly and immediately 
Utopian: and that is perhaps the most terrifying thing about it. The 
technological Singularity of Vinge and Kurzweil is symptomatic in 
this respect. For - as Accelerando helps to show - the Singularity is 
actually a fantasy of finance capital, in both senses of the genitive. 
It is the closest we can come to a master narrative in this neo- 
liberal, post-Fordist age of flexible accumulation and massive 
virtual monetary flows. 

Although the Singularity undoubtedly occurs sometime in the 
course of the narrative of Accelerando, we never actually 'see' 
it happening, and we cannot pin down precisely when it takes 
place. Kurzweil, of course, predicts that the Singularity will occur 
sometime around the year 2049. One character in Accelerando 
suggests a much earlier date: 'it happened on June 6, 1969, at 
eleven hundred hours, eastern seaboard time ... That was when 
the first network control protocol packets were sent from the data 
port of one IMP to another - the first ever Internet connection'. 56 
I can suggest a few alternative dates, following the premise that 
Kurzweil's and Stross's technological fantasy is necessarily also 
a fantasy of capital. Perhaps the Singularity happened on 15 
August 1971, when President Nixon suspended the gold standard, 
thus opening the way for the phantasmatic flows of currency 
speculation and trade in derivatives. Or perhaps the more accurate 
date is 6 October 1979, when Paul Volcker, Chairman of the 
US Federal Reserve Board, definitively abandoned Keynesianism 
and adopted monetarism as official policy: 'a policy designed to 
quell inflation no matter what the consequences might be for 
employment'. 57 In any case, the flows of Capital have now become 
autonomous - and strictly speaking unimaginable. They have 
liberated themselves from any merely human dimensions, and 


from whatever feeble limits Fordism and Keynesianism might 
previously have placed upon the single-minded pursuit of capital 
accumulation. In that sense, the Singularity is already here. 


1. Charles Stross, Accelerando (New York: Ace Books, 2005), 
p. 240. 

2. See Vernor Vinge, 'The Coming Technological Singularity: How to 
Survive in the Posthuman Era' ( 1 993), available at www.ugcs.caltech. 

3. See Hans Moravec, Mind Children (Cambridge: Harvard University 
Press, 1990) and the jacket of Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near 
(New York: Viking, 2005). 

4. Kurzweil, Singularity, pp. 7-9. 

5. Ibid., p. 7. 

6. Ibid., p. 9. 

7. Ibid., p. 9. 

8. Ibid., p. 340. 

9. Ibid., p. 487. 

10. Ibid., p. 487. 

1 1 . Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, transl. 
Peter Hallward (New York: Verso, 2001), p. 41. 

12. Kurzweil, Singularity, p. 7. 

13. Jon VanZile, 'On Building Bridges Toward Immortality: Report on 
Ray Kurzweil', Life Extension Magazine (September 2005), available 

14. Ken MacLeod, The Cassini Division (New York: Tor, 1999), 
p. 115. 

15. See Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called 
Utopia and Other Science Fictions (New York: Verso, 2005); Carl 
Freedman, Critical Theory and Science Fiction (Hanover: Wesleyan 
University Press, 2000). 

16. Kurzweil, Singularity, pp. 335, 339. 

17. Jameson, Archaeologies, p. 211. 

18. Zizek! (Taylor, 2005). 

1 9. Stross, Accelerando, p. 72. 

20. Ibid., pp. 3, 40, 382. 

21. Ibid., p. 69. 

22. Ibid., p. 370. 

23. Ibid., p. 290. 


24. Ibid., p. 325. 

25. Ibid., pp. 96-7. 

26. Ibid., pp. 172-3,270,318. 

27. Ibid., p. 365. 

28. Ibid., pp. 359-60. 

29. Ibid., p. 315; cf. p. 364. 

30. Ibid., pp. 227, 289 - echoing Moravec's Mind Children. 

31. Kurzweil, Singularity, p. 362. 

32. Ibid., p. 8. 

33. Ibid., p. 376. 

34. Ibid., pp. 376-7. 

35. Stross, Accelerando, p. 98. 

36. Ibid., p. 168. 

37. Ibid., p. 229. 

38. Ibid., p. 303. 

39. Ibid., pp. 14, 248, 251, 341 and passim. 

40. Ibid., p. 303. 

41. Ibid., p. 289. 

42. Ibid., p. 313. 

43. Ibid., p. 210. 

44. Ibid., p. 289. 

45. Ibid., pp. 278, 303. 

46. Ibid., p. 321. 

47. Ibid., p. 295. 

48. Ibid., p. 315. 

49. Benjamin Lee and Edward LiPuma, 'Cultures of Circulation: The 
Imaginations of Modernity', Public Culture 14: 1 (2002), p. 204. 

50. Edward LiPuma and Benjamin Lee, Financial Derivatives and the 
Globalization of Risk (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 
p. 65. 

51. Ibid., p. 30. 

52. Ibid., pp. 77-83. 

53. Ibid., p. 29. 

54. Ibid., p. 29. 

55. Stross, Accelerando, pp. 301, 295. 

56. Ibid., p. 172. 

57. David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: Oxford 
University Press, 2005), p. 23. 



Sherryl Vint 

I know I am a machine, and I know that I have known feelings only when I was 
once a living man. I sometimes wonder if you people might go too far. Too far 
with us robots. Too far, perhaps, with the underpeople too. Things were once 
simple, when everything that talked was a human being and everything which 
did not talk was not. You may be coming to an ending of the ways. 

Cordwainer Smith 1 

Animals, Claude Levi-Strauss contended, in a dictum that has 
become key to animal studies, are good for thinking with; SF is no 
less provocative. Its peculiar imaginative resources allow not only 
the interrogation of cultural assumptions but also the construction 
of alternative possibilities. By postulating thought-experiments, 
SF can cast fresh light on theoretical debates and inspire radical 
praxis. This essay takes several SF texts as starting points from 
which to re-imagine the social relationships between humans 
and other species, and the ways in which they are embedded 
in structures of global capitalism. In an age of environmental 
destruction, xenotransplantation and the production of human/ 
animal chimeras, this is an urgent task. Donna Haraway's When 
Species Meet (2007) calls for an updated survey of the structure 
and consequences of capitalism that could take account of the 
ways nature, humans and technology have all been changed 
physically and socially by capitalist technoculture. This essay is 
intended to contribute to such a project by focusing on the ways 
in which animals are caught up in human social relations as both 



commodities and labour-power, and on the implications that their 
dual role has for thinking about labour in late-capitalism. This 
essay will reconceptualise orthodox Marxism's labour theory of 
value by exploring the homologies between capitalism's alienating 
reduction of people to labour-power and its exploitation of the 
environment in general (and other species in particular). These 
concerns should not be seen as competing priorities for the left, 
but as parts of 'the laws of motion of capitalism', thus enabling 
us to develop a wider understanding of 'the societal logic that 
links together such disparate phenomena as the impoverishment 
of the poor, the privatization of life forms, and the destruction of 
the natural environment'. 2 By moving beyond human exception- 
alism, productive opportunities for alliances between Marxists, 
socialists, and environmental and animal welfare activists 
become possible. 

SF is often fascinated with the alienated being of robots and 
androids, who - like Star Trek: The Next Generation's ( 1 987-94) 
gregarious Data (Brent Spiner) and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence's 
(Spielberg, 2001) maudlin David (Haley Joel Osment) - are all 
too often obsessed with being human. Focusing on the desire to 
be human in philosophical or psychological terms, such examples 
typically suggest that these machines could be fulfilled if only they 
had access to the affective relationships of human community. 
Equally common in SF is the fantasy of creating a class of beings 
to serve humanity. In this dream of plenitude all necessary but 
unfulfilling labour is done without human effort, performed by 
machines or manufactured beings, such as Isaac Asimov's regulated 
robots and Iain M. Banks's god-like AI 'Minds', thereby freeing 
humans for fuller lives. Such tales reveal the alienated nature of 
labour under capital and, therefore, the human desire to escape 
from labour as an expression of Utopian longing. Manufactured 
beings are presumed not to be alienated in this way, their labour 
conceptualised as analogous to that performed by machines rather 
than to human labour-power. 

This problematic assumption drives many SF plots, drawing 
attention to the emergent subjectivity of the created being and thus 
its need for life as something beyond being a tool used for human 


ends. For example, in Marge Piercy's He, She and /f (1991), Yod, 
the cyborg designed to protect the free town of Tikva from the 
multinational corporation Yakamura-Stichen's predations, is a 
failure because of conflicts between his programming for defence 
and his programming for sociality. The programmer who gave him 
empathy comes to regret this choice, observing that 'the creation 
of a conscious being as any kind of tool - supposed to exist only 
to fill our needs - is a disaster', and the novel concludes that 'it 
was inexcusable to create a sentient being for any other reason 
than to live its own life'. 3 The term 'robot', derived from the Czech 
for 'worker', was coined in Karel Capek's play about alienated 
labour, R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) (1921) - a concern 
he developed further in his novel, War with the Newts (1936). 
Preferred by their European exploiters to native labour, the newts 
- a newly discovered species of giant salamander - are deemed not 
to possess human status, and thus their employers are freed from 
moral qualms about reducing them to their labour-power alone. 
However, this fantasy of maximising the extraction of surplus 
value - the newts are put to work, displayed in zoos, kept as pets, 
experimented upon, processed into a cheap, if barely palatable, 
source of protein fit only for the working classes - continually 
runs up against the material constraints caused by the fact that the 
newts are living, sentient beings who learn to defend themselves. 
Central to the novel is the struggle to determine on which side 
of the human/animal boundary they belong, since if they are 
merely animal, they cannot be 'exploited', and thus any degree of 
exploitation can be justified. Although the newts suffer in ways 
similar to those in which animals suffer under capital, Capek 
does not precisely challenge the human/animal boundary so much 
as its specific use to exclude certain people from the category of 
'human', particularly slaves, workers and the colonised. But his 
use of the animal Other to do so is instructive. Animals, too, 
have been exploited as labour-power by capital, curtailing and 
deforming the social relations possible between humans and other 
species, and, as John Berger notes, 


This reduction of the animal ... is part of the same process as that by which 
men have been reduced to isolated productive and consuming units. ... 
The mechanical view of the animal's work capacity was later applied to 
that of workers. 4 

Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind stories 
(1950-75) draw parallels between the alienated lives of robots 
and the alienated lives of underpeople, 'animals in the shape of 
human beings, who did the heavy and the weary work which 
remained as the caput mortuum of a really perfected economy'. 5 
Like Capek's robots, Smith's underpeople stand in for the class 
of exploited workers alienated under capitalist social relations. 
At the same time, however, Smith suggests that the underpeople 
equally and simultaneously represent animal lives alienated 
and exploited by a speciesist human culture. The Instrumental- 
ity stories tell of a future human society, the Instrumentality of 
Mankind, that has overcome poverty and suffering for humans 
through its reliance on an underclass of workers. Because these 
underpeople are derived from animal stock, their exploitation 
need not be recognised as such, and thus they form the perfect 
permanently impoverished pool of surplus labour that capital 
requires. In Smith's underpeople, capitalist exploitation operates 
through a speciesist division of human from animal: 

Human beings and hominids had lived so long in an affluent society that 
they did not know what it meant to be poor. But the Lords of the Instrumen- 
tality had decreed that underpeople - derived from animal stock - should 
live under the economics of the Ancient World; they had to have their own 
kind of money to pay for their rooms, their food, their possessions, and 
the education of their children. If they became bankrupt, they went to the 
Poorhouse, where they were killed painlessly by means of gas. 6 

It is illegal to treat underpeople in hospitals because 'It was easer 
to breed new underpeople for the jobs than it was to repair sick 
ones'. 7 Like machines, they are simply discarded and replaced 
when they wear out. Such measures drastically reduce the sphere 
of social reproduction that must otherwise exist simultaneously 
with capital to ensure the labour supply. 


Smith's insistence that the exploited labour of the underpeople 
is more than merely an analogy for the exploited labour of the 
often-animalised working classes is relatively unique. Unlike the 
majority of SF, from H.G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau 
(1896) to F. Paul Wilson's Sims (2003), Smith invokes not only 
the history of exploited working-class and colonised subjects, but 
also the history of animal-kind's service to humanity. Furthermore, 
while texts such as War with the Newts or Sims represent their 
underclasses as a homogeneous mass of the dispossessed, Smith 
carefully individualises his underpeople as much as his human 
characters. For example, the partnerships of cats and pilots 
formed in 'The Game of Rat and Dragon' (1955) require a 
mutual compatibility between individuals of both species, not 
just the human partner's generalised liking for cats as an entity. 
Furthermore, Smith's underpeople articulate their revolution as one 
that must transform social relations of production in order to end 
their exploitation, insisting 'We are not ending time . . . We are just 
altering the material conditions of Man's situation for the present 
historical period'. 8 Part of this material situation is the history of 
humanity's uneven social relations with animals, which has been 
one between subject and object, but which must be transformed 
into one between two - albeit not identical - subjects. 

Marx defines labour-power as 'the aggregate of those mental 
and physical capabilities existing in the physical form, the living 
personality, of a human being, capabilities which he sets in motion 
whenever he produces a use-value of any kind'. 9 In The Economic 
and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1 844, he argues that, when the 
worker is reduced to the status of a commodity, 

what is animal becomes human and what is human becomes animal. Certainly 
eating, drinking, procreating, etc. are also genuinely human functions. But 
abstractly taken, separated from the sphere of all other human activity and 
turned into sole and ultimate ends, they are animal functions. 10 

In his particular historical moment, Marx suggests that eating, 
drinking and procreating are sufficient for animal being, but that 
human species-being requires more. Under alienated conditions, 
'Life itself appears only as a means to life'," a brute struggle for 


survival that he posits as acceptable for animals but alienating 
for humans. In our historical moment, however, we are far more 
aware of capacities that animals possess for cognition and for 
social relations with humans and one another. 12 

Marx condemns capitalism not just because of inequality 
and exploitation, which as he was well aware exist under other 
economic systems. Capitalism is unique in that it impoverishes 
the human psyche and degrades all social relations among 
people, reducing people from full human being to an existence 
as a commodity, valued solely as labour-power. Capitalism, Marx 
argued, alienated humans from their conscious creative activity, 
transforming a social life activity into mere work done for the 
capitalist. But he saw the labour of animals as different from 
that of humans for two reasons: first, animals produce things 
for their use-value and cannot calculate as would be required to 
think of exchange-value; 13 second, animals labour out of instinct 
and not as part of imaginative and conscious creation. Therefore, 
animals cannot be alienated from the products of their labour 
in the same way as can humans. This species distinction, at the 
heart of Marx's consideration of labour, is no longer consistent 
with the ways in which animals are integrated into the social 
relations of capitalism. 14 I want to move beyond this anthro- 
pocentric conception and consider in similar terms the damage 
capitalism does to all life - the lives of human subjects alienated 
from the rest of nature by capitalist social relations 15 and the lives 
of non-human subjects reduced to commodities in the service of 
capital. Allowing non-human, sentient beings to be treated as 
commodities is simultaneously a structure of subjectivity and a 
social relation produced by capitalist conceptions of value and, 
as such, perpetuates capitalism. 

Marx's concept of species-being differentiates humans from 
other species. Labour plays a special role in this differentiation 
since, Marx argues, it is through labour that 'man' transforms 
the world, realising the vision of his imagination in materiality. 
Therefore, humanity's specific capacities are intimately connected 
to our capacity to labour, to choose and control what we make, 
and to realise not just instinctual promptings but intellectual 


projects. Thus, Marx concludes, alienating labour alienates us 
from our own species-being, the essence of what it means to be 
human. 16 Yet his distinction between the imaginative labour of 
humans and the instinctual, responsive behaviour of animals has 
not held up in the decades since. The species-being of non-humans 
is not identical to humanity's, but nonetheless this species-specific 
being is, or should be, more than merely functioning as machines 
for capital accumulation. The differences between our historical 
situation and his - differences not only related to changes in 
our understanding of animal being but also to the increasingly 
mechanised and massive slaughter of animals for food, 17 the 
creation of animals as laboratory tools, the real subsumption 
of nature 18 in genetic changes made to other species - require 
that we reassess our notions of species-being and animal labour. 
We need to recognise that this changed historical situation is 
part of capital's intervention into human and animal lives and 
social relations - that animals 'do not "naturally" become private 
property, no more than humans "naturally" come to sell their 
labor'. 19 Social relations, like needs, are materially produced and 
vary with time and place. 

If we take seriously animals' capacity for social relations, then 
reducing their existence to beings-for-capital is a violation of their 
species-being as much as reducing humans to labour-power is a 
violation of ours. Marx argues that capitalist labour conditions 
alienate a person in four ways: from nature, by removing him 
from the sensuous existence of nature as his home and site 
of subsistence; from 'himself, by making 'his life activity, his 
essential being, a mere means to his existence'; 10 from 'his' own 
body, by making nature exterior to a human life within culture; 
and from species-being, from the social relations of humans 
among ourselves. Similarly, Barbara Noske suggests, animals are 
alienated through their integration into the productive processes 
of capital: from their product, from their productive activity, 
from their fellow creatures, and from nature itself. 21 Animals 
are alienated from their own bodies and offspring, turned into 
products for human consumption. They are alienated from their 
own productive activity when it is removed from a full, natural 


life and situated in the factory conditions of agribusiness, such 
as the unnaturally large sows kept in farrowing crates, unable 
to move, so that they do not crush their offspring. Animals 
raised in agribusiness conditions are alienated from their fellow 
creatures, overcrowded to maximise profit, and mutilated (for 
example, the de-beaking of chickens and amputation of pigs' tails) 
so that their stress reaction to this artificial existence does not 
damage the profitability of their bodies. Like human labourers, 
they are alienated from nature itself, physically removed from a 
context in which they might exist as something other than living 
machines, and often altered so that they no longer resemble their 
natural ancestors. Thus, 'animal alienation amounts to alienation 
from species life'. 22 Cordwainer Smith's representation of the 
underpeople suggests a similar evaluation in one character's 
observation: 'People never loved underpeople. They used them, 
like chairs or doorhandles. Since when did a doorhandle demand 
the Charter of Ancient Rights?' 23 

Our current techno-scientific social relations with animals in 
western culture are characterised by 'moral schizophrenia'. 24 We 
have established affective and familial relationships with some 
species, while we kill more farm animals in more devastating 
ways than at any other time in human history. Recent research in 
animal cognition increasingly notes their capacity for intelligence, 
language and tool-use, while at the same time there exists a 
rising industry of knockout-gene mice, genetically engineered 
with a damaged gene so as to test its function. Growing evidence 
requires us to recognise that animals, like humans, are social 
beings. This implies that when animals enter into capitalist 
structures of exchange their participation is a social relation 
between species; but, like that between producers and consumers, 
it is denied or repressed by the commodity form. If we concede 
that animals are social beings, able to be alienated from their 
species-being, then we must think of their labour as labour- 
power, which has consequences for how we think about labour 
and value in Marxist theory. 

Smith's Norstrilia (1975) reveals that the entire economy of the 
Instrumentality is dependent upon a biological secretion of certain 


sick sheep that confers immortality on humans. The underpeople 
rebel, constructing their revolution in terms of resistance to the 
human culture's long history of disavowing human-animal 
social relations: 

How many cats have served and loved man, and for how long? How many 
cattle have worked for man, been eaten by man, been milked by men 
across the ages, and have still followed where men went, even to the 
stars? And dogs. I do not have to tell you about the love of dogs for men. 
We call ourselves the Holy Insurgency because we are rebels. We are 
a government. 25 

Smith's 'The Dead Lady of Clown Town' (1964), which recounts 
the beginning of the revolution, is set in a period far earlier than 
most of the other Instrumentality stories. It continually reminds 
the reader of this ancient history, and that 'we must remember 
that centuries passed before mankind finally came to grips with 
the problem of the underpeople and decided what "life" was 
within the limits of the human community'. 26 The revolution 
itself is rather anticlimactic: it 'lasted six minutes and covered 
one hundred and twelve meters', 27 ending with the slaughter of 
most of those involved and the burning of the leader, D'joan, 
a dog-girl. Smith suggests, however, that revolution cannot be 
measured in minutes and metres, but needs to be assessed with 
reference to the long, slow transformation of consciousness that it 
sparked. He further emphasises that this transformation of social 
relations is not possible without collective struggle, that 'mankind 
would [not] ever get around to correcting ancient wrongs unless 
the underpeople had some of the tools of power - weapons, 
conspiracy, wealth, and (above all) organization with which to 
challenge man'. 28 

By connecting his tale of alienated labour to the history of 
alienated human-animal social relations, Smith suggests that there 
are many and provocative parallels between capital's exploitation 
of humans and of animals. The animal body was the first sentient 
part of nature that was appropriated into property and exploited 
as a means to human ends, rather than being an end in itself. 
Animals occupy a particularly fraught location within the nexus 


of production, exploitation and alienated social relations. Bob 
Torres posits a number of links between commodity fetishism 
and the exploitation of animals as commodities. The capitalist 
drive to extract surplus value affects animals on two levels - in 
their lives as commodities and in their lives as labour-power. The 
forces of capital modify the bodies of domestic animals in various, 
often incredibly damaging ways, such as the forced maturation 
of broiler chickens which results in 'young birds who are often 
unable to walk, flap their wings, or even stand up', 29 in order to 
make them better producers. The logic by which capital organised 
the work process in order to extract maximum surplus value is 
analogous to the way that the commodification of animals has 
been organised in the factory-farming system to extract maximum 
profit. In both cases, species life is not relevant beyond that which 
is necessary to reproduce the human as labour-power or the 
animal as commodity. Recounting his education in a college of 
agricultural science, Torres notes, 'I was taught to view cows as 
producers.... We learned about how much (or how little) space 
one could give a dairy cow, and that increasing the number of 
cows in a space meant increased profit, within certain limits'. 30 
There are clear similarities to Fordist and post-Fordist labour 
practices, in which work processes are organised so as to maximise 
the extraction of surplus value and minimise the degree to which 
any aspect of the worker's life other than his/her existence as 
labour-power appears in capital's calculations. 

Capitalists monopolise the means of production and force wage 
labourers to work for them in order to survive, which is similar to 
the processes by which animals were domesticated and restricted 
to life within capitalist social structures. Both transformations 
rely on the privatisation of land and other resources necessary 
for life, use violence to punish or kill off those who continue 
to occupy land now deemed private property, and restrict the 
bodily activity of those incorporated into the production system. 
Rather than seeing such homologies as evidence that capitalism 
has reduced humans to the status of animals, I would question 
the logic of a category of being that allows any living creature to 
be treated as merely a commodity, both because of new under- 


standings of animal cognition, emotion and social life and because 
the structural existence of such a category perpetuates the logic 
by which is it acceptable for some beings to have enormous 
wealth and comfort while others live in degraded and painful 
conditions. The rise of agribusiness, the transformation of nature 
into a factory and the reduction of sensuous productive activity 
to calculated productivity have damaged human and animal life 
alike. Animals became commodities and humans became labour- 
power in a mutually entangled set of transformations. 

Torres links meat consumption to the structures of commodity 
fetishism inasmuch as it relies on the consumer's ignorance of 
the system of production behind that which is consumed; were 
consumers able to see the social relations (both human and 
animal) behind the appearance of commodities, he argues, many 
would at the very least change their consumption habits. Meat 
production is a specific instance of the larger commodity system: 
full comprehension of the relations of exploitation and the entire 
social systems they represent - the human/animal boundary and 
the capitalist mode of production - would require (that is, both 
depend upon and demand of us) radical change. Marx himself 
stresses the importance of a non-alienated social relationship 
with nature, arguing that 'The worker can create nothing without 
nature, without the sensuous external world. It is the material 
on which his labour is realised, in which it is active, from which 
and by means of which it produces'. 31 The real subsumption 
of nature prevents any social relation between humans and 
this sensual world, which is transformed into another factory 
of production. The agro-industrial model of agriculture, which 
depleted soil and displaced small, local producers, was primarily 
aimed at translating wartime nitrogen production into the agro- 
chemical farming revolution; the export of these methods through 
the Marshall Plan and 'green revolution' initiatives helped US 
corporations while decreasing the amount of food for people in 
the world. 32 Animals, people and the environment all lost for the 
sake of corporate profit. 

The seed of social change that the dog-girl D'joan plants during 
her short-lived revolution is a vision of a transformed and non- 


alienated relationship between humans and other life. Her message 
is about resisting a relationship with all other life that sees value 
only in the accumulation of capital: 

I bring you Life-with. It's more than love. Love's a hard, sad, dirty word, a 
cold word, an old word. It says too much and it promises too little. I bring 
you something much bigger than love. If you're alive, you're alive. If you're 
alive-with, then you know the other life is there too - both of you, any of 
you, all of you. Don't do anything. Don't grab, don't clench, don't possess. 
Just be. That's the weapon. 33 

Smith's revolutionary underpeople understand that the way to a 
better and non-alienated life is the recognition of the other as a 
subject, not merely an object - what Haraway calls letting 'the 
question of how animals engage one another's gaze responsively 
tak[e] center stage'. 34 Being 'alive-with' lets humans return to 
nature, not as conquerors and not merely to 'grab ... clench ... 
possess', but instead to 'just be' a part of a larger social collective 
and of an existence that does not put capital accumulation at its 
centre. The state of alive-with allows species-being to flourish 
for all species, human and non-human. SF examples such as 
Smith's provide alternative models of how we might imagine 
less alienated inter-species social relations; one of the ways of 
beginning this work in our material reality is by acknowledging 
animals' contribution to capital accumulation as an alienated 
social relationship, and seeking to end that alienation as a way 
to improve animal and human lives. 

Capitalism has successfully used racism and sexism to fragment 
the working class and produce groups of Homo sapiens deemed 
non-human and hence expendable as labour." Permitting the 
exploitation of non-human creatures whom we are now compelled 
to acknowledge as sentient and social (even if not sentient and 
social in precisely the same ways that we are) allows this structure 
of subjugation to remain available for use against groups of 
Homo sapiens. The treatment of workers from the Global South, 
either in sweatshops located in the South or as legal or illegal 
immigrant labour in the North, is only the latest in a long history 
of such moves. As McNally notes, wages are so low in globalised 


sweatshop labour that 'many commentators use the language of 
slavery to describe the conditions' and 'The Anti-Slavery Society 
estimates that there are 200 million people worldwide who might 
be described as "slaves" - people performing bonded labour to 
pay off a variety of debts'. 16 Theorising animals as alienated 
labour-power requires a rethinking of the concept of value, and 
of how we understand the labour of animals and those employed 
under such conditions. In suggesting that animals' contributions 
to capital accumulation should be recognised as labour-power 
and as an alienated social relation, I am not arguing that the 
exploitation of animals is identical to the exploitation of wage 
labourers or slaves. Instead, my suggestion is that we need to 
recognise that there are multiple species-beings, and that animals 
can be alienated from their species-being as much as humans can 
be from ours. In Smith's Instrumentality stories, this conclusion 
requires the recognition that 'these are people, not underpeople. 
But they have dog-thoughts, cat-thoughts, goat-thoughts, and 
robot-ideas in their heads'. 37 A reconceptualised Marxist theory of 
labour-power could similarly make room for the subjectivity and 
alienation of animal being without conflating animals' species- 
being with human species-being. 

Affinities between human and animal exploitation and 
alienation under capitalism point to ways in which the reduction 
of animals to commodities produces a cultural milieu in which it 
is correspondingly easier to reduce humans to labour-power and 
exchange-value. It is not coincidental, for example, that slaugh- 
terhouses are among the most dangerous workplaces, and that 
they frequently employ the most vulnerable workers - immigrants 
(illegal and otherwise). 38 Changing society to a more collective 
structure would eliminate this alienation, acknowledging that 
animals too have mental and physical capacities beyond their 
utility as beings-for-capital. As Torres points out, under capital, 
not only do domesticated animals hand themselves and their 
bodies over for a fixed period of time, but also 

the entirety of their production is oriented toward the needs of their owner, 
and the goal is maximal profit. The individuality, sentience, and biological 


needs of animals involved in this process are entirely and fully subjugated 
to production and profit. 39 

The property status of animals is a serious obstacle to efforts for 
animal welfare reform, 40 which has consequently had to turn to 
legal activism. But the centrality of property to both human and 
animal suffering in late-capitalism suggests that Marxism, too, 
might want to address the property status of animals as part of 
an effort to imagine and create a less alienated life, overcoming 
human alienation not only from productive activity but also 
from nature, by resisting its commodification and returning to a 
relation in which nature is part of the sensuous world of a full 
human life - a world which also allows for the full species-lives 
of non-humans. 


1. Cordwainer Smith, 'Under Old Earth', in James A. Mann, ed., The 
Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Fiction of Cordwainer 
Smith (Framingham: NESFA Press, 1999), p. 304. 

2. David McNally, Another World is Possible: Globalization and Anti- 
Capitalism, revised and expanded edition (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring 
Publishing, 2006), pp. 122, 123. 

3. Marge Piercy, He, She and It (New York: Fawcett Crest, 1991), 
pp. 412, 418. 

4. John Berger, 'Why Look at Animals?', in About Looking (New York: 
Pantheon, 1980), p. 11. 

5. Cordwainer Smith, 'The Dead Lady of Clown Town', in Mann, 
Rediscovery, p. 224. 

6. Cordwainer Smith, 'The Ballad of Lost C'melF, in Mann, Rediscovery, 
p. 403. Smith's 'hominids' are Homo sapiens modified to survive in 
the very un-Earth-like conditions of some colony worlds. They often 
look less like humans than do the underpeople, but their genetic 
relationship to human rather than animal 'stock' ensures their higher 
social status. 

7. Smith, 'Dead Lady of Clown Town', p. 224. 

8. Cordwainer Smith, Norstrilia (New York: Ballantine, 1975), 
p. 249. 

9. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1, transl. 
Ben Fowkes (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), p. 270. 


10. Karl Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 
(New York: International Publishers, 1964), p. 111. 

11. Ibid., p. 113. 

12. Marx argues for the historical variability of needs: 

On the other hand, the number and extent of [humankind's] so- 
called requirements, as also the manner in which they are satisfied, 
are themselves products of history, and depend therefore to a great 
extent on the level of civilization attained by a country; in particular 
they depend on the conditions in which, and consequently the 
habits and expectations with which, the class of free workers 
has been formed. In contrast, therefore, with the case of other 
commodities, the determination of the value of labour-power 
contains a historical and moral element'. (Capital, p. 275) 

The extent and type of our social relations are also a product of 
history. As we have arrived at a particular conjuncture in which it 
is increasingly recognised in various ways that animals are sentient 
beings with whom we share the world, not merely resources for 
human projects, Marxism needs to account for this changed context 
in its theories of labour and exploitation. For examples of our 
increased knowledge of the capacities of non-human animals in the 
late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, see Ralph Acampora, 
Corporal Compassion: Animal Ethics and Philosophy of the Body 
(Philadelphia: University of Pittsburg Press, 2006); Philip Armstrong 
and Laurence Simmons, eds, Knowing Animals (Leiden: Brill, 2007); 
Lorraine Daston and Gregg Mitman, eds, Thinking with Animals: 
New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism (New York: Columbia 
University Press, 2005); Jacques Derrida, The Animal That Therefore 
I Am, ed. Marie-Louise Mallet, transl. David Wills (New York: 
Fordham University Press, 2008); Donna Haraway, When Species 
Meet (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007); William A. 
Hillix and Duane M. Rumbaug, Animal Bodies, Human Minds: Ape, 
Dolphin and Parrot Language Skills (New York: Kluwer/Plenum, 
2004); and Jennifer Wolch and Jody Emel, eds, Animal Geographies: 
Place, Politics and Identity in the Nature-Culture Borderlands 
(London: Verso, 1998). The discipline of Human-Animal Studies 
is increasingly central to humanities academic scholarship, with both 
Temple University Press and Columbia University Press publishing 
HAS series. 

13. Marx argues that there are two conditions for someone to sell labour- 
power as a commodity: the possessor 'must have it at his disposal, 
he must be the free proprietor of his own labour-capacity', and the 
labourer must be 'compelled to offer for sale as a commodity that 


very labour-power which exists only in his living body', as he is 
unable to sell the commodities he has made with his labour-power 
{Capital, pp, 271, 272). Animals are excluded from this definition 
of freedom, as they are owned and thus not owners of themselves 
and their capacity for labour. I would argue, however, that it is an 
aspect of our denied social relations with animals under capital 
that produces this situation. They are transformed from wild into 
owned precisely by the social relations of capital which turn nature 
into property. Thus their status might be thought of as analogous to 
African-Americans under slavery, who were legally defined as non- 
free by capitalist legal structures. Furthermore, with the increasing 
consolidation of global capitalism and its commodification of nature, 
many animals find themselves in the same status as humans, able 
to survive only by submitting to a place within the social relations 
of capitalist production, since there is little if any space left on the 
globe which would allow them to pursue lives separate from human 
social systems. 

14. Marx suggests that the surplus value objectified as capital is a surplus 
of exchange-values, and he rules the animal out of the possibility of 
producing exchange-values because it cannot enter into the calculative 
social relations of capitalist exchange. However, animals can be 
alienated from an embodied existence of full, sensuous species life as 
much as can humans (although I would maintain species specificity: 
that each species has its own homologous but not identical species- 
being). While animals cannot consciously enter into capitalism's 
calculations of exchange, there is evidence to suggest, for example, 
that in situations of domestication there is an exchange of tameness for 
certain kinds of sustenance (note the difference between dog breeding 
and wolf breeding, and dogs' dependence upon humans to care for 
their young). We need to start thinking of domesticated animals as 
our partners in the creation of a human-animal culture, one that was 
as transformed by the move from feudalism to capitalism as were 
human class relations. Animal participation is clearly different from 
human participation in the market, but they participate nonetheless, 
and thus a less species-centric way to think about the economic and 
its social relations is required. 

15. Paul Burkett argues that capital creates a version of nature strictly as 
a resource for generating exchange-value, and thus fails to see nature 
as a social relation between humans and their material conditions of 
existence. This obfuscation 'corresponds to the social separation of 
the labourers from necessary conditions of their production, that is, 
to the fundamental class relation of capitalism' (Marx and Nature: 
A Red and Green Perspective (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 


1999), p. 62). An alienated relationship to nature is therefore an 
extension of the alienated relations among humans that are produced 
by capitalism, and yet another instance of its exploitative nature. 

16. Species-being in German is Gattungwesen, which translates as 
'mankind-essence'. However, wesen is not an abstract essence in 
each human being, but rather a solid reality that is an ensemble of 
social relations. The word is taken from Feuerbach, who used it in 
The Essence of Christianity (1841) to distinguish man from animal 
(see Dirk Struik's footnote to Marx, Economic and Philosophic 
Manuscripts, p. 111). 

17. Philip McMichael argues that the rise in meat consumption (and 
corresponding rise in slaughter) is 'not an evolutionary process; 
rather it expresses the power relations of successive food regimes 
that have promoted forms of animal protein, and over-production, 
such as artificially-cheapened surplus corn stocks that underwrite 
"supersizing" in the fast food industry' ('Feeding the World: 
agriculture, development and ecology', in Leo Panitch and Colin 
Leys, eds, Coming to Terms with Nature (London: Merlin Press, 
2006), p. 182). 

18. Following Marx's argument about the difference between the 
formal and the real subsumption of labour, William Boyd, W. Scott 
Prudham and Rachel Schurman argue that we are living in the 
moment of transition between the formal and real subsumption of 
nature under capitalism. In the real subsumption of labour, workers 
lost all autonomy and control over the work processes, becoming 
merely cogs in machines. In the real subsumption of nature, capital 
moves from merely incorporating nature's processes into systems 
that produce profit to '"improving" nature directly rather than 
simply making labor more productive' ('Industrial Dynamics and 
the Problem of Nature', Society & Natural Resources 14: 7 (2001), 
p. 565). 

19. Jason Hribal, '"Animals are part of the working class": a challenge 
to labor history', Labor History 44: 4 (2003), p. 436. Marx and 
Engels argue that 

Language is as old as consciousness, language is practical 
consciousness that exists also for other men, and for that 
reason alone it really exists for me personally as well; language, 
like consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity, of 
intercourse with other men. Where there exists a relationship, 
it exists for me: the animal does not enter into 'relations' with 
anything, it does not enter into any relation at all. For the animal, 
its relation to others does not exist as a relation. Consciousness is, 


therefore, from the very beginning a social product, and remains 
so as long as men exist at all. 

From The German Ideology, available at 
marx/works/1845/german-ideology/chOl.htm (accessed 17 July 
2008). Animals' capacity for language use is one of the chief areas 
in which the formerly accepted human/animal boundary has been 
challenged and found permeable. One might presume that, given 
his attentiveness to historical materialism, Marx might rethink this 
passage had he access to this new data, and thus I feel it is consistent 
to argue that we have social relations with animals within a Marxist 
framework despite Marx's own proclamations to the contrary. 

20. Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, p. 183. 

2 1 . Barbara Noske, Beyond Boundaries: Humans and Animals (Toronto: 
Black Rose Books, 1997), pp. 19-20. 

22. Ibid., p. 20. 

23. Smith, 'Dead Lady of Clown Town', p. 244. 

24. See Gary Francione, Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or 
the Dog? (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000). 

25. Smith, Norstrilia, pp. 247-8. 

26. Smith, 'Dead Lady of Clown Town', p. 276. 

27. Ibid., p. 268. 

28. Smith, 'Ballad of Lost C'mell', pp. 403-4. 

29. Donna Haraway, When Species Meet, p. 267. 

30. Bob Torres, Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal 
Rights (Oakland: AK Press, 2007), p. 18. 

31. Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, p. 109. 

32. See McMichael, 'Feeding the World', pp. 176-7. 

33. Smith, 'Dead Lady of Clown Town', pp. 256-7. 

34. Haraway, When Species Meet, p. 22. 

35. McNally argues that slavery under British colonialism was different 
from other forms of slavery because of its link with capitalist social 
organisation. Feudalism does not 'subject the producers - usually 
peasants - to systematic supervision, control and regulation of their 
work process', unlike capitalism, which 'increases the "efficiencies" 
of exploitation by seizing control of the work process itself and 
systematically subjecting wage labourers to the most intricate and 
invasive systems of supervision, direction and management' {Another 
World is Possible, pp. 144—5). The exploitation of animals under 
capitalist factory farming is likewise qualitatively different from 
other forms of agricultural exploitation of animals. 

36. McNally, Another World is Possible, pp. 185, 193. 

37. Smith, 'Dead Lady of Clown Town', p. 273. 


38. See Torres, Making a Killing, p. 45, which draws on the US Bureau 
of Labor Statistics' 2005 report. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle ( 1 906) 
also points out this homology from the early days of stockyards 
and slaughterhouses. See also Gail A. Eisnitz, Slaughterhouse 
(New York: Prometheus Books, 2007), which establishes through 
interviews with current and former slaughterhouse employees that 
the pressure to work to the pace of the disassembly line is the main 
contributor to human injury, animal suffering, and the atmosphere 
of casual brutality towards the animals that characterises most such 

39. Torres, Making a Killing, p. 64. 

40. See Gary Francione, Animals, Property and the Law (Philadelphia: 
Temple University Press, 1995). 



Phillip Wegner 

And if I speak so often of the incalculable and the undecidable it's not out of a 
simple predilection for play nor in order to neutralize decision: on the contrary, 
I believe there is no responsibility, no ethico-political decision, that must not 
pass through the proofs of the incalculable or the undecidable. Otherwise 
everything would be reducible to calculation, program, causality, and, at best, 
'hypothetical imperative'. 

Jacques Derrida 1 

History will not forgive revolutionaries for procrastinating when they could 
be victorious today (and they certainly will be victorious today), while they 
risk losing much tomorrow, in fact, they risk losing everything. 

V.I. Lenin 2 

This essay is concerned with Scottish SF writer Ken MacLeod's 
complexly intertwined Fall Revolution quartet, consisting of 
The Star Fraction (1995), The Stone Canal (1996), The Cassini 
Division (1998) and The Sky Road (\999). The quartet represents 
not only one of the most interesting recent Utopian visions, but 
also an attempt to rethink the contemporary nature of the political 
act and agency. This series has some important things to tell us 
about the specific historical situation out of which it emerged, 
in terms both of SF's history and the larger social and political 
horizons the genre inhabits. 

Prominent on the US editions of these novels is Kim Stanley 
Robinson's declaration that MacLeod 'is writing revolutionary 



SF. A nova has appeared in our sky'. Robinson's enthusiasm for 
MacLeod points towards a project they share: the reinvention of 
Utopia for our era of globalisation. There are significant formal 
and thematic parallels between MacLeod's quartet and Robinson's 
Mars trilogy (1992-96). First, both are long and deal with a vast 
historical period: in MacLeod's case, over 1,400 pages extending 
from the 1960s through the twenty-fourth century. Both deploy 
the SF device of life extension: in MacLeod, this includes, as 
in Robinson, nanotechnology longevity treatments, but also 
the digital uploading of 'dead' individuals into either cloned or 
machine bodies, and the transformation of human beings into a 
new kind of digital 'posthuman' electronic subject, the Fast Folk. 
Fredric Jameson's comments on these aspects of Robinson might 
also be applied to MacLeod: 

Sheer length, sheer reading time, is crucial here in order to develop an 
analogon of historical time itself, as its overdeterminations slowly evolve 
across the longer Martian years, which the device of the longevity treatments 
prevents from forming into generations.... It is something of a scientific 
laboratory experiment in its own right, for human collective history knows 
rhythm and a logic radically distinct from the normal biological life span, 
and its paradoxes and unknowabilities stem as much from that incommen- 
surability as they do from the other one that opposes biological individuals 
to larger multiplicities. 3 

In this manner, both works take up the task of attempting a 
figuration of historical processes themselves. 4 

Second, both also share a distinctive spatial vision. Of Robinson, 
Jameson writes: 

Unlike the 'monological' Utopias of the tradition, which needed to dramatize 
a single Utopian possibility strongly because of its repression from Terran 
history and political possibility, this more 'polyphonic' one includes the 
struggle between a whole range of Utopian alternatives, about which it 
deliberately fails to conclude. 5 

MacLeod stages this proliferation of and interaction between 
Utopian possible worlds in various ways. The Star Fraction 
presents a twenty-first-century UK fragmented into innumerable 


small, autonomous states and urban enclaves, and half of The 
Sky Road is set - in the years following The Star Fraction's 'Fall 
Revolution' - in a world broken up into numerous small nations 
and surrounded by autonomous orbital satellite communities 
(the UN now displays 'the two thousand, three hundred and 
ninety seven flags of the nations of the Earth and its colonies'). 6 
Surrounding and pressing upon even these fractured micro-states 
are the central Asian Sheenisovs - a nomadic 'barbarian' socialist 
movement - and the Scottish Greens. These formations bear a 
striking resemblance to Deleuze and Guattari's 'war machine', 
a nomadic collective that contains within itself mechanisms to 
ward off the 'apparatus of capture' that is the modern state 
formation. 7 (In The Sky Road, the latter is represented by the 
electronic and communicational 'net' encircling the globe, which 
the Sheenisovs' unique technologies enables them to circumvent.) 
The Stone Canal focuses in part on the anarcho-libertarian- 
capitalist community on the distant planet of New Mars, while 
The Cassini Division explores the interaction between inhabitants 
of New Mars, the members of the twenty-fourth-century anarcho- 
socialist Solar Union and the post-human Fast Folk of Jupiter. A 
similar diversity is evident in MacLeod's manipulation of generic 
conventions: his use of cyberpunk, techno-thriller, hard SF, space 
opera, near-future dystopia, first contact and others exemplifies 
SF's 'generic discontinuity'. 8 

These formal and representational complexities make any 
simple summary of the quartet a daunting task. Serving as a 
unifying thread throughout the four volumes are three characters 
- Jonathan Wilde, David Reid and Myra Godwin - who first 
encounter each other in the early 1970s as university students 
inhabiting (as did MacLeod) the radical subcultures of Scotland 
and Great Britain. The three become influential leaders in the first 
decades of the twenty-first century: Wilde founds a movement 
to campaign for space colonisation and becomes a leader of an 
anarchist commune; Reid converts to free-market libertarianism 
and becomes a successful entrepreneur; and Godwin rises to the 
position of president-dictator of the International Scientific and 
Technical Workers' Republic (ISTWR) located within the borders 


of Kazakhstan. The first volume (in which these three characters 
remain largely off-stage) focuses on the events of a revolution, 
aided by a ghostly artificial intelligence, against a US/UN global 
hegemony. In the subsequent volumes we learn that splits within 
the space-dwelling communities result in the formation of an 
Outwarder faction, who subsequently upload themselves to 
become the rapidly evolving Fast Folk and launch a devastating 
attack on humanity. Reid and his followers migrate through a 
wormhole to found the world of New Mars; accompanying them 
is the uploaded consciousness of Wilde, who, after his body is 
cloned, leads a challenge to Reid before travelling back through 
the wormhole. Meanwhile, the remnants of humanity that survive 
the Fast Folk attack form an interplanetary Utopian Solar Union, 
and begin a longstanding detente against the posthumans. This 
struggle comes to a climax in the twenty-fourth century with the 
extermination of the Fast Folk when they apparently attempt to 
mount another assault. The final volume focuses, in alternating 
chapters, on Godwin's rise to power and a centuries-hence Utopian 
alternate history (in which humanity is about to begin once again 
the journey to outer space) that results from her decisions during 
a moment of global crisis. 

Summation of the quartet is rendered even more difficult 
because this story unfolds through a distinctly non-linear plot 
structure. In The Stone Canal and The Sky Road, alternating 
chapters narrate histories separated by centuries. A number of 
the last events, chronologically, are recounted in volume three, 
some of the earliest in volume four; and most readers understand 
the far future of The Sky Road as an alternate history to that told 
in The Cassini Division. The quartet thus disrupts conventional 
progressivist notions of historical linearity and destabilises any 
simple privileging of one of these possible worlds over the others 
as the culmination of a deterministic historical process. 

Finally, much of the plot consists of first-person representa- 
tions of various worlds, with narrator-protagonists who are both 
interested in their worlds and limited in their outlook. A good 
deal of the 'action' takes the form of political discussions and 
strategising over what represents the best possible way of being in 


the world. 9 This emphasis on the (re)politicisation of everyday life 
tells us something about the historical situation in which MacLeod 
was writing, and signals a kinship with the pedagogical labours 
of Bertolt Brecht: like Brecht, MacLeod's fiction 

is not concerned with drawing a 'moral' exactly . . . [but] with leaving that 
process open, and allowing the audience to have its own opinion and to 
frame its own moral, all the while attempting to suggest strongly - nay, 
even insist - that it cannot not do so. 10 

This invocation of Brecht brings us to the question of the 
dialectical relationship between modernism and SF, a relationship 
not unlike that of the interwoven temporalities and spaces in the 
quartet. On the one hand, SF, emerging as a particularly original 
representational technology in the late nineteenth century with 
H.G. Wells, is always already as modernist as, say, film." The 
formal specificity of SF as a modernist practice is most effectively 
grasped in Darko Suvin's definition of it as 'the literature of 
cognitive estrangement', of which Jameson notes, 

Suvin's originality as a theorist of both science fiction and Utopias all at 
once, is (among other things) not merely to have linked the two generically; 
but also to have conjoined the SF and Utopian critical tradition with the 
Brechtian one, centering on estrangement (the so-called V-effect); and to 
have insisted not merely on the function of SF and Utopia to 'estrange', to 
produce a V-effect for the reader from a normal 'everyday' common-sense 
reality, but also to do so 'cognitively' (a no less Brechtian component of 
the definition). The reassertion of the cognitive means ... a refusal to allow 
the (obvious) aesthetic and artistic status of the SF or Utopian work to 
neutralize its realistic and referential implications. 12 

Moreover, Jameson argues that SF emerges when and where it 
does to fill the void left by the waning of one of the most significant 
realist genres, the historical novel: 

We are therefore entitled to complete Lukacs' account of the historical 
novel with the counter-panel of its opposite number, the emergence of 
the new genre of SF as a form which now registers some nascent sense of 


the future, and does so in the space on which a sense of the past had once 
been inscribed. 13 

Through its 'realist' representation of the future, SF engages in its 
form of (modernist) estrangement or defamiliarisation: 

For the apparent realism, or representationality, of SF has concealed 
another, far more complex temporal structure: not to give us 'images' 
of the future - whatever such images might mean for a reader who will 
necessarily predecease their 'materialization' - but rather to defamiliarize 
and restructure our own experience of our own present, and to do so in 
specific ways distinct from all other forms of defamiliarization. 14 

In short, Jameson shows how SF is a wholly unique form of 
what we might call 'realist (cognitive) modernism (estrangement)'. 
Whereas high modernism estranges through violations of formal 
expectations, SF estranges through its realistic content, whose 
referent is 'absent'. 15 

However, when we turn to SF's specific history, we discover a 
more delimited modernist 'period' within it; or more precisely, a 
number of different 'modernist' moments. Jameson argues that 
film has two histories - of the silent and sound eras - and that each 
of the two 'evolutionary species' that results passes through similar 
developmental stages: from an early 'realism' (D.W. Griffith for 
silent, classical Hollywood for sound), a moment in which occurs 
'the conquest of a kind of cultural, ideological, and narrative 
literacy by a new class or group'; through a 'modernist' period 
of formal experimentation (of 'Eisenstein and Stroheim', and of 
the 'great auteurs'); and finally, although only in sound film, into 
a full-blown 'postmodernism'.' 6 Something similar occurs in the 
history of SF: following its realist emergence (Wells, E.M. Forster, 
Alexander Bogdanov), the first modernist moment (Yevgeny 
Zamyatin, Alexei Tolstoy, Aldous Huxley, Karel Capek, Olaf 
Stapledon) is interrupted in the late 1920s by the Soviet crackdown 
on literary and artistic experimentation and the emergence in the 
US of pulp magazine SF. The genre subsequently passes through a 
second realist stage (the so-called Golden Age) before opening up 
in the late 1950s into its great modernist period, which extends 


through the New Wave into the mid 1970s. This is followed by 
postmodern SF, signalled most dramatically by the appearance 
of cyberpunk in the 1980s and its subsequent rejoinder in the 
'critical dystopias' 17 of Robinson, Marge Piercy and Octavia 
Butler. The 1990s, for reasons I will elaborate, witnesses another 
turn of the wheel, as new and established SF and fantasy writers 
(Robinson, MacLeod, Butler, China Mieville, Philip Pullman, Joe 
Haldeman) all react against the earlier postmodern SF, especially 
cyberpunk, and 'repeat' SF's earlier modernist phases. 18 This 
science-fictional post-postmodernism runs parallel to similar 
developments in cultural and social theory in the 1990s (Jameson, 
Jacques Derrida, Slavoj 2izek, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, 
Alain Badiou, Giorgio Agamben, Gayatri Spivak, Kojin Karatani 
and Judith Butler, among others) that in various ways returned to 
themes (the universal, truth, ontology, totality, Utopia) that were 
anathema to postmodernism. 

One consequence of the quartet's modernist form is that it shifts 
attention away from the representation of other worlds to the 
processes by which they come into being: the moment of political 
decision and forms of agency through which they emerge. As one 
character exclaims, 

You know more than you know. I have to tell you to wake up! Be on your 
guard! Small decisions can decide great events, as I know too well. Without 
a socialist revolution, in the next historical period at that, a catastrophe 
threatens the whole culture of mankind. The battles may be determined, 
but not their outcome: victory requires a different ... determination. 19 

MacLeod's vision thus resonates with Georg Lukacs's modernist 
theorisation of the Augenblick, the 'moment' to intervene in 
a situation: 

What is a 'moment' (Augenblick)? A situation whose duration may be 
longer or shorter, but which is distinguished from the process that leads up 
to it in that it forces together the essential tendencies of that process, and 
demands that a decision be taken over the future direction of the process. 
That is to say the tendencies reach a sort of zenith, and depending on how 
the situation concerned is handled, the process takes on a different direction 


after the 'moment'. Development does not occur, then, as a continuous 
intensification, in which development is favorable to the proletariat, and 
the day after tomorrow the situation must be even more favorable than 
it is tomorrow, and so on. It means rather that at a particular point, the 
situation demands that a decision be taken and the day after tomorrow 
might be too late to make that decision. 20 

In the Augenblick, 'the decision, and with it the fate of the 
proletarian revolution (and therefore of humanity), depends on the 
subjective element'. 21 The Augenblick is a situation in which a 

certain particular demand possesses ... a global detonating power ... The 
art of [the] Augenblick - the moment when, briefly, there is an opening 
for an act to intervene in a situation - is the art of seizing the right 
moment, of aggravating the conflict before the system can accommodate 
itself to our demand.... the Lukacsian Augenblick is unexpectedly close 
to what, today, Alain Badiou endeavours to formulate as the Event: an 
intervention that cannot be accounted for in terms of its pre-existing 
'objective conditions'. 22 

Aimed at restoring the radical subjective dimension to Marxist 
theory (and taking as its target Second International-style 
determinism), Lukacs nevertheless argues that his theorisation 
of the Augenblick is to be distinguished from the voluntarism of 
'a Luxemburgist theory of spontaneity' that turns 'the concrete 
truth of particular and concrete historical "moments" into the 
abstract falsehood of a permanently decisive influenceability of 
the process. Such a "left" theory of moments ignores precisely the 
instant of dialectical change, the concrete, revolutionary essence 
of the "moment"'. 23 It is thus the ability both to recognise and to 
intervene in the moment that defines the 'art of insurrection', and 
the concrete historical embodiment of this 'conscious, subjective 
moment of the revolutionary process' is not the abstract masses 
but a 'class-conscious vanguard'. 24 In this way, 

Lukacs advocates the dialectical unity/mediation of theory and practice, 
in which even the most contemplative stance is eminently 'practical' (in 
the sense of being embedded in the totality of social (re)production and 
thus expressing a certain 'practical' sense of how to survive in this totality), 


and, on the other hand, even the most 'practical' stance implies a certain 
'theoretical' framework; it actualizes a set of ideological propositions." 

An example of the Augenblick is Lukacs's composition of History 
and Class Consciousness (1919-22), 'one of the few authentic 
events in the history of Marxism': 26 a vanguardist (i.e. modernist) 
intervention that actualises a set of ideological propositions and 
thereby changes the coordinates of its situation, and whose 
own conditions of possibility come to a close shortly thereafter. 
But these conditions would be 'repeated' - in the 1960s, as 
signalled by the global revival of History and Class Consciousness 
following its 1967 republication, and again in the 1990s, with 
the discovery and publication of Lukacs's A Defense of History 
and Class Consciousness. 

For 2izek, this formulation of the Augenblick makes Lukacs 
the 'philosopher of Leninism'. At one point, Wilde notes that 
his group 'had learned the left's one sound lesson, Leninism', 27 
and examples of these repetitions of Lenin, this capacity to 
seize the moment of the Augenblick and practise the rare art of 
insurrection, abound in the quartet. The Star Fraction ends with 
the AI that played a crucial role in original events of the series, 
stating: 'When their existence endangered that of humanity, with 
Space Defense hours away from an irrevocable decision, I made 
a choice'. 28 In The Stone Canal, when Wilde is offered in the mid 
1990s an opportunity to form a corporate-funded autonomous 
'grassroots organization campaigning for industrial development, 
instead of against', he reflects: 

The big thrill wasn't that they were offering me power - they were offering 
me a bit more influence, that was all. No, what made the hairs on my neck 
prickle was that they thought I might - any decade now - have power; 
that I might represent something that it was a smart move to get on the 
right side of well in advance; that somewhere down the line might be my 
Finland Station. 29 

Accepting their offer leads to the founding of the Space Movement, 
which dramatically shapes all of subsequent history. Later in the 
novel, when he is a senior figure in a London anarchist commune 


(as he also appears in The Star Fraction), his decision not to sell 
their 'nation's' nuclear capacity to Germany reorders the globe. 
He declares: 'I had reached my Finland Station'. 30 

The most controversial seizure of the moment occurs in The 
Cassini Division, when Ellen May Ngwethu uses the opportunity 
of a computer virus attack by Jupiter's Fast Folk to unleash an 
asteroid bombardment that exterminates them. MacLeod here 
offers the opportunity to reflect on one of radicalism's intractable 
problems - the legitimacy of political violence - but thwarts any 
easy attempt to render a final judgement upon the morality of 
this action. Ellen is adamant that her action is necessary and 
justified if humanity is to survive - it is precisely this inflexibility 
that enables her to act in the Augenblick; but there is also a good 
deal of evidence that her past experiences have created in her 
a deep and intractable bias against the Fast Folk. In their pre- 
Singularity human lives, as the Outwarder faction of the Space 
Movement, they were responsible for the murder of her parents 
and many of her friends; and she lives in a terribly immediate 
way the aftershocks of the Fast Folk's first viral assault, centuries 
earlier, on the Earth and its colonies that led to a massive loss 
of life and a Dark Century of warfare and conflict: 'After the 
conflict, I didn't just have an ideological dislike, and aesthetic 
distaste, for the Outwarders. Hatred was flash-burned into my 
brain'. 31 Characters with very different extended life experiences 
argue against her action, and the novel concludes with a debate 
over its legitimacy: 

'Original sin?' interrupts the bishop. 'I'm surprised at you!' 

The two Calvinist clergymen smirk politely. Reid shakes his head. 

'They showed it by their actions,' he says. 'By what they did to our 

'Ah, but was that enough to condemn an entire ... species?' the 
Reformed Humanist asks. 'I suspect Ellen May Ngwethu and her crew acted 
precipitately, but with a degree of premeditation, a refusal to consider 
alternatives, which in itself — ' 

'We live in a tough world/ says the rabbi. 'As my people have traditionally 
put it, life is short and shit happens.' 32 


Intriguingly, however, the real concern might lie elsewhere: as 
one character puts it, 'but it's so final! Everything will change'. 13 
Arguments against the morality of radical or revolutionary action 
often betray a deeper anxiety produced by the undecidability of 
change: when we act in the 'moment' we know things will change, 
but whether for the better or worse cannot be known in advance. 
However, as both the quartet and my epigraph from Derrida 
stress, it is only in embracing that undecidability or incalculabil- 
ity that a free and, in Badiou's terms, the only truly 'human' act 
can occur. 34 

The finest example of seizing the Augenblick is found in 
the closing pages of The Sky Road (and of the quartet). Myra 
Godwin, fearing the dissolution of her 'nation' in the face of the 
Sheenisov onslaught, seeks military aid. Her efforts are unsuc- 
cessfully directed to the Eastern US, 35 and then to a UK mired in 
a struggle to defend its integrity against the Greens operating with 
near-impunity within its borders. Her actions alert US and UN 
forces to the ISTWR's banned cache of nuclear weapons, inherited 
from the Vatican, hidden among the clutter of space stations, 
weapons platforms, communication satellites and junk orbiting 
the planet. 36 When she refuses to relinquish these weapons of mass 
destruction, they begin to level the nation's major cities and, even 
more sinisterly, direct their fire at the refugee groups streaming 
out of them. When her own caravan comes under attack, Myra 
decides to detonate the orbital weapons, thereby unleashing 
the 'ablation cascade', an event that 'means the end of satellite 
guidance, global positioning, comsats, the nets, everything! It'll be 
like the world going blind!'. 37 It is precisely this 'unexpected and 
undreamt' event that creates the preconditions for the emergence 
of the post-national 'utopian' world present in the alternating 

In the final pages of Myra's narrative we are presented with 
this striking scene: 

Riding into the first dawn of the new world, Myra knew the little camcopter 
dancing a couple of meters in front of her might well be relaying the last 
television news most of its watchers would ever see. 


Behind her, in a slow straggle that ended with the ambulances and litters 
of the injured and dying, the Kazakh migration spread to the horizon. The sun 
was rising behind them, silhouetting their scattered, tattered banners. There 
was only one audience, now, that was worth speaking to: the inheritors. 

'Nothing is written,' she said. The future is ours to shape. When you take 
the cities, spare the scientists and engineers. Whatever they may have done 
in the past you need them for the future. Let's make it a better one.' 36 

The quartet's final image - a statue of Myra, located in a Scottish 
community hundreds of years hence, 'riding, at the head of her 
own swift cavalry ... and, floating bravely above her head and 
above her army, the black flag on which nothing is written' 39 
- resonates with one that occurred in our world only a few years 
before MacLeod turned to writing SF: 

The most sublime image that emerged in the political upheavals of the 
last years - and the term 'sublime' is to be conceived here in the strictest 
Kantian sense - was undoubtedly the unique picture from the time of the 
violent overthrow of Ceausescu in Romania: the rebels waving the national 
flag with the red star, the Communist symbol, cut out, so that instead of 
the symbol standing for the organizing principle of the national life, there 
was nothing but a hole in its center. It is difficult to imagine a more salient 
index of the 'open' character of a historical situation 'in its becoming', 
as Kierkegaard would have put it, of that intermediate phase when the 
former Master-Signifier, although it has already lost the hegemonical 
power, has not yet been replaced by the new one.... what really matters 
is that the masses who poured into the streets of Bucharest 'experienced' 
the situation as 'open', that they participated in the unique intermediate 
state of passage from one discourse (social link) to another, when, for 
a brief, passing moment, the hole in the big Other, the symbolic order, 
became visible. 40 

With this figuration of the 'hole in the big Other', we arrive at the 
true Utopian content of MacLeod's rich and complex narrative: 
dismantling any notion of rigid historical determinism and fully 
opening up the closure of prehistory, MacLeod's Utopia cannot 
be identified with any of the variety of possible worlds mapped 
in this work (although, as in Robinson, we might read this very 


ensemble itself as a figuration of a Utopian space beyond the 
bordered totality of the nation-state). Rather, the work's Utopia 
is that of the future as permanent revolution, a temporal locale 
wherein we are once again endowed with the power, and respon- 
sibility, to act as political subjects. 

All of this also speaks to the historical context out of which 
MacLeod's, Robinson's and Zizek's Utopian imaginaries emerge. 
This period - located between what I describe as the 'two deaths' 
of the beginning of the end of the Cold War, with the 'fall' of the 
Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989, and the end of the beginning of 
the terrible new historical situation of the global 'war on terror', 
with the destruction of the World Trade Center on 1 1 September 
2001 - forms a strange transitional space between an ending (of 
the Cold War) and a beginning (of our post- 9/1 1 world). 41 This 
place between two deaths, the location between a Real Event (the 
unexpected and unplanned end of the Cold War) and its Symbolic 
repetition (the 9/1 1 attacks), is strictly speaking 'non-historical', 
precisely because it is open to a number of possible 'symboliza- 
tions/historicizations'. Such an 'empty place' is experienced in 
its lived reality as 'a place of sublime beauty as well as terrifying 
monsters'.' 12 It feels like a moment of 'terrifying monsters', of 
hauntings by a living dead past and the 'compulsion to repeat', yet 
is simultaneously experienced as a moment of 'sublime beauty', 
of the openness and instability that £izek invokes in the passage 
cited above, of experimentation and opportunity, of conflict and 
insecurity - a place, in other words, wherein history might move 
in a number of very different directions. 

The 1990s witnessed a host of new developments - the rise 
of a debate over globalisation; the rapid expansion of the new 
communication and information technologies of the internet 
and the World Wide Web; the explosive emergence, especially 
in the second half of the period, of a new counter-globalisation 
'movement of movements'; as well as some of the theoretical and 
cultural developments I alluded to above. All of these indicate the 
degree to which the 1 990s represent a unique period of struggle, 
one enabled by the Event of the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and 
waged over the significance of this Event. For the Event of the first 


death - the end of the Cold War - in effect ended for the global 
cultural and political left the legacy of the twentieth century, and 
opened up the space for new kinds of political and cultural experi- 
mentation. Crucially in this decade, no outcome was determined 
outside this struggle: that is, there was no way to know a priori 
what the repetition of the Event might be. Indeed, it will be the 
identification of the second death that becomes during the 1990s 
the very prize struggled over. 

It is this sense of the 1990s as a situation of sublime openness 
and renewed struggle that is so effectively figured in the quartet. 
Indeed, the disorienting effects of the fall of the Eastern bloc are 
registered in the central chapter of The Stone Canal, set in the 

'I haven't changed my ideas, long-term - but I know a defeat when I see 
one. Getting over the end of the Second World will take generations, and it 
won't be our generations. The last time I hung out with the left was during 
the Gulf War. The kids don't know shit, and the older guys -' he grinned 
suddenly like the Dave I knew better '- that is, the ones older than us, they 
look like men who've been told they have cancer.' 45 

But the rest of the novel (and of the quartet) demonstrates that 
this situation should be understood as an opportunity - another 
Augenblick - not only for reimagining radical politics, but also 
for transforming the world. 

At the same time, a rather different view emerged, which held 
that the US was the 'victor' in the Cold War, and thus had the 
obligation to 'lead' the world - a view that promised to have dire 
consequences for the rest of the globe, as the first Gulf War less 
than two years later indicated. Unsurprisingly, this issue is also 
of central concern to MacLeod. Louis Marin argues that any 
Utopia is constituted through a careful neutralisation of elements 
of the specific historical context from which it emerges which then 
enables the productive figurative operations of the text to go to 
work. 44 In the quartet, the focus of its neutralising machinery 
turns out to be nothing less than the US itself, imagined less as a 
discreet national community than as a figure for what can now 


be understood as an emerging form of global sovereignty that 
would replace that of the Cold War: that of Empire: 

After the world war there was a world government. It was officially known 
as the United Nations, unofficially as the US/UN, and colloquially as the 
Yanks. It kept the peace, from space, or so it claimed. What it actually did 
was prevent innumerable tiny wars from becoming big wars. But in order 
to maintain its power, it needed little wars, and they never stopped. We 
had war without end, to prevent war to the end. 45 

One of the key mechanisms by which Empire secures hegemony 
is rigid enforcement of a global monopoly on state violence, 
especially in the form of nuclear weapons. In the Fall Revolution, 
this monopoly is ingeniously dissolved, as various micro-states 
rent out their nuclear capacity: 

They exported nuclear deterrence. Not the weapons themselves - that, 
perish the thought, would have been illegal - but the salutary effect of 
possessing them.... for the first time, nuclear deterrence was available to 
anyone willing to pay for it, and the cost was reasonable enough for every 
homeland to have one. 46 

Nuclear proliferation becomes the basis of, rather than a barrier 
to, the movement towards Utopia (defined as the maximal 
proliferation of Utopian worlds in a situation of permanent 
revolution). Unable to impose its vision of global order, the 
monarchical (in Hardt and Negri's Spinozan terminology) US 
and its various aristocratic vassals dissolve away, enabling the 
final movement from the long dark era of prehistory into the 
chaos and drama of history itself: 

We know as well as you do that a power such as the US must become 
cannot administer the world. Police it, at a very high level, yes. But as some 
powers move up from the nation, others devolve to the local community. 
We have the opportunity to encourage autonomy and diversity. Let us take 
it, and spare our country years of agony. 47 

In this way, MacLeod, like Hardt and Negri, sees that the very 
conditions that enable the establishment of Empire are also those 


that make its defeat an equally real possibility. The outcome is not 
guaranteed, making history, once again, a field of struggle. 

The question remains: Is it still possible to imagine this kind 
of change and struggle in the post-9/1 1 world? 48 If our answer is 
in the negative, then there may be one final and vital lesson to be 
taken from MacLeod. In the last pages of The Star Fraction we 
get this snippet of dialogue: 'What we thought was the revolution 
... was only a moment in the fall'; 4 ' in MacLeod's introduction to 
the US edition, he notes that this 'remark has a theory of history 
behind it'. 50 Such a theory holds that historical temporalities 
unfold on scales to which our cognitive organs are not normally 
attuned, and that the consequences of our decisions and actions 
may not be registered in the immediate moment, or even in our 
all-too-human lifespan. But those consequences are there, albeit 
often in forms we cannot imagine or expect, and hence our respon- 
sibilities remain to seize the Augenblick: to act as if Utopia stands 
poised at every moment to make its tiger's leap into history. 


1. Jacques Derrida, Points ... Interviews, 1974-1994, ed. Elisabeth 
Weber (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), p. 273. 

2. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 26 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 
1972), pp. 234-5. 

3. Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called 
Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London: Verso, 2005), p. 396. 

4. 'History is the trade secret of science fiction, and theories of history 
are its invisible engine' (Ken MacLeod, preface to The Star Fraction 
(New York: Tor, 2001), p. 1 1). 

5. Jameson, Archaeologies, p. 410. This proliferation within a single 
text of Utopian possible worlds and the staging of the clash between 
them is not original to Robinson; something similar occurs in Yevgeny 
Zamyatin's We (1921) and Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed 
(1974). See Phillip Wegner, Imaginary Communities: Utopia, the 
Nation, and the Spatial Histories of Modernity (Berkeley: University 
of California Press, 2002). 

6. Ken MacLeod, The Sky Road (New York: Tor, 2001), p. 257. 
That there is something particularly Scottish about this interest 
in devolutionary and decentralising processes is also suggested by 


Tom Nairn, Faces of Nationalism: Janus Revisited (London: Verso, 

7. See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: 
Capitalism and Schizophrenia, transl. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: 
University of Minnesota Press, 1987). 

8. Jameson, Archaeologies, pp. 254—66. 

9. MacLeod used 'the real Fourth International (seedbed of most of the 
sects of the British far Left) as a model of revolutionary politics' (Ken 
MacLeod, 'Politics and Science Fiction', in Edward James and Farah 
Mendlesohn, eds, The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction 
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 239). 

10. Fredric Jameson, Brecht and Method (London: Verso, 1998), 
pp. 106-7. 

11. If one dates SF to Mary Shelley, then one might accept Tony Pinkney's 
suggestion that romanticism was already a proto-modernism. 
'Editor's Introduction: Modernism and Cultural Theory', in 
Raymond Williams, The Politics of Modernism: Against the New 
Conformists (London: Verso, 1989), pp. 1-29. Cf. Michael Lowy 
and Robert Sayres, Romanticism Against the Tide of Modernity, 
transl. Catherine Porter (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001). 

12. Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics 
and History of a Literary Genre (New Haven: Yale University Press, 
1979), p. 12; Jameson, Archaeologies, p. 410. 

13. Jameson, Archaeologies, pp. 285-6. 

14. Ibid., p. 286. 

15. See Marc Angenot, 'The Absent Paradigm: An Introduction to the 
Semiotics of Science Fiction', Science Fiction Studies 6: 1 (March 
1979), pp. 9-19. 

16. Fredric Jameson, Signatures of the Visible (London: Verso, 1990), 
p. 156. 

17. See Tom Moylan, Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, 
Utopia, Dystopia (Boulder: Westview, 2001). 

18. The concept of 'repeating' is taken from Slavoj 2izek, who called 
for a repetition of Lenin's modernist project of social and cultural 

As a result, repeating Lenin does not mean a return to Lenin - to 
repeat Lenin is to accept that 'Lenin is dead', that his particular 
solution failed, even failed monstrously, but that there was a 
Utopian spark in it worth saving. Repeating Lenin means that we 
have to distinguish between what Lenin actually did and the field 
of possibilities he opened up, the tension in Lenin between what 
he actually did and another dimension: what was 'in Lenin more 


than Lenin himself. To repeat Lenin is to repeat not what Lenin 
did but what he failed to do, his missed opportunities. 

Slavoj 2izek, 'Afterword: Lenin's Choice', in 2izek, ed., Revolution 
at the Gates: Selected Writings of Lenin from 1917 (London: Verso, 
2002), p. 310. Cf. Sebastien Budgen, Stathis Kouvelakis and Slavoj 
2izek, eds, Lenin Reloaded: Toward a Politics of Truth (Durham: 
Duke University Press, 2007). I discuss Joe Haldeman and Octavia 
Butler's 1990s SF in Phillip Wegner, Life Between Two Deaths, 
1989-2001: US Culture in the Long Nineties (Durham: Duke 
University Press, 2009). 

19. MacLeod, Star Fraction, p. 51. 

20. Georg Lukacs, A Defense of History and Class Consciousness: 
Tailism and the Dialectic, transl. Esther Leslie (London: Verso, 
2000), p. 55. 

21. Ibid., p. 58. 

22. Slavoj 2iiek, 'Postface: Georg Lukacs as the Philosopher of Leninism', 
in Lukacs, Defense of History and Class Consciousness, p. 164. 

23. Lukacs, Defense of History and Class Consciousness, p. 59. 

24. Ibid., p. 57. 

25. 2izek, 'Postface: Georg Lukacs as the Philosopher of Leninism', p. 172. 

26. Ibid., p. 151. 

27. Ken MacLeod, The Stone Canal (New York: Tor, 2001), p. 145. 

28. MacLeod, Star Fraction, p. 320. 

29. MacLeod, Stone Canal, pp. 113-14, 116-17. 

30. Ibid., p. 184. 

31. Ken MacLeod, The Cassini Division (New York: Tor, 2000), 
p. 162. 

32. Ibid., p. 304. 

33. Ibid., p. 133. 

34. Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Radical 
Evil, transl. Peter Hallward (London: Verso, 2001), p. 49. 

35. In another common trope of recent SF, the US has broken up into 
two nations, one on each coast, separated by a loose grouping 
of religious-fundamentalist, white-supremacist and indigenous 
peoples' enclaves. On this trope, see Phillip Wegner, 'The Last 
Bomb: Historicizing History in Terry Bisson's Fire on the Mountain 
and Gibson and Sterling's The Difference Engine', Comparatist 23 
(1999); and 'Learning to Live in History: Alternate Historicities 
and the 1990s in The Years of Rice and Salt', in William J. Burling, 
ed., Kim Stanley Robinson Maps the Unimaginable: Critical Essays 
(Jefferson: MacFarland, 2009). 

36. Space-junk is the model for Rem Koolhaas's junkspace: 'what 
remains after modernization has run its course, or, more precisely, 


what coagulates while modernization is in progress, its fallout' (Rem 
Koolhaas, 'Junkspace', in Chuihua Judy Chung, Jeffrey Inaba, Rem 
Koolhaas and Sze Tsung Leong, eds, Project on the City 2 (Koln: 
Taschen, 2001), p. 408). 

37. MacLeod, Sky Road, p. 394. 

38. Ibid., p. 401. 

39. Ibid., p. 406. 

40. Slavoj 2izek, Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and the 
Critique of Ideology (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), p. 1. 

41. See Wegner, Life Between Two Deaths. 

42. Slavoj 2izek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (New York: Verso, 
1989), p. 135. 

43. MacLeod, Stone Canal, p. 119. 

44. See Louis Marin, Utopics: The Semiological Play of Textual Spaces, 
transl. Robert A. Vollrath (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press 
International, 1984). 

45. MacLeod, Stone Canal, p. 207. See Michael Hardt and Antonio 
Negri, Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), and 
Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (Cambridge: 
Harvard University Press, 2004). 

46. MacLeod, Stone Canal, pp. 156-7. 

47. Ibid., p. 192. 

48. MacLeod acknowledges 9/11 as the sign of the closure of a 
particularly open historical period: 

Douglas Adams encapsulated the scientific attitude as 'Any idea 
is there to be attacked.' A like iconoclasm in political and social 
matters is its extension and precondition. This view is not only 
recent, but rare. Its global hegemony seemed assured after the Fall 
of the Wall; less so, after the Fall of the Towers. 

MacLeod, 'Politics and Science Fiction', p. 231. 

49. MacLeod, Star Fraction, pp. 314. 

50. Ibid., p. 11. 

Part III 

Back to the Future 



Iris Luppa 

To discover the extent and impact of Marxist film criticism 
during the years of the Weimar Republic (1919-33) it is not 
enough simply to refer to the early work of established left- 
leaning Weimar film theorists Rudolf Arnheim, Bela Balazs and 
Siegfried Kracauer, nor would it suffice merely to add Walter 
Benjamin's writing on the link between film and modernity or 
the media-theoretical essays of Bertolt Brecht dating from the 
so-called stabilisation period (1924-29). In fact, many reviews 
and other examples of film criticism from implicit and explicit 
materialist perspectives can be found in the Republic's daily press 
and weekly magazines. Articles by writers who were socialists 
or communists, such as Axel Eggebrecht, Heinz Liidecke and 
Alfred Durus, writing for a proletarian audience in the spirit 
of the 'Proletkult' (proletarian culture) programme, could be 
found in such communist publications as Die Rote Fahne, Die 
Arbeiter lllustrierte Zeitung and Kutturwille. 2 There were also 
many left-leaning liberal writers who equally contributed to 
the frequently overtly political discourses on film, reflecting the 
Republic's extreme political polarisation - writers such as Willy 
Haas, Herbert Ihering, Andor Kraszna-Kraus and Kurt Pinthus, 
who contributed daily editorials, film reviews and wider film- 
theoretical and cultural debates in the daily Film-Kurier, Berliner 
Borsen-Courier, and magazines like Weltbiihne and Tage-Buch. 



Marxist writing on film took many forms: from advocating the 
greater distribution and screening of Soviet montage films and 
exposing the bourgeois ideology prevalent in films produced by 
Germany's capitalist film industry - especially the Hugenberg- 
owned Ufa (Universum-Film AG) studios - to engaging with 
the social function of film as a tool for education and political 
agitation. As early as 1922, Bela Balazs, writing in Die Rote 
Fahne, argued that 'for the most part', bourgeois films 

are already conscious tools for propaganda employed by the counter 
revolutionary capitalism ... not to mention the hundreds of films written 
as blatant propaganda against communist Russia. There's only one thing to 
do: to make use of the huge agitational power of film for our own objectives 
... we have to have our own film factories producing our own films. 3 

Sabine Hake draws attention to debates among communist critics 
who argued that films with a revolutionary content called for new 
forms of representation and stylistic innovation, and those who 
felt that existing modes with a high degree of identification would 
serve best to politicise the audience, as film would only find its 
true form in a post-revolutionary society. 4 

This essay examines leftist responses to SF in Weimar cinema, 
and asks why and to what extent the genre was of concern to 
Marxist critics. It then discusses the left's critical response to 
two highly influential SF films by Fritz Lang - Metropolis (1927) 
and Frau im Mond (1929) - demonstrating the scope as well as 
the limitations of these approaches to the genre, including their 
focus on narrative elements at the expense of visual analysis and 
a refusal to engage with mass popular culture. 

Marxist Perspectives on Weimar SF and the 
Capitalist Film Industry in 1920s Germany 

Axel Eggebrecht's 'Technology, labour and science of the future: 
possibilities of a future film', published in Kulturwille (1927), 
provides a good example of a dialectic-materialist approach to the 
genre. He argues that the capitalist film industry is part of a wider 
'amusement industry' (akin to what Adorno later terms 'culture 


industry'), capable only of producing 'crafted' mass commodities. 
Nonetheless, Eggebrecht regards film as the 'greatest art form of 
the 20 th century', which, he argues, 'because it is the legitimate 
child of industrial late capitalism ... now has to express the 
entire emptiness of this epoch'. 5 This view is characteristic of, on 
the one hand, the left's growing awareness of film's potential in 
reaching large audiences with a view to politicising the working- 
class spectatorship and, on the other, a recognition that the film 
industry in its current state was inextricably linked to the capitalist 
mode of production and capitalist ideology. Eggebrecht notes that, 
whereas young proletarian dramatic artists were able to break 
through the 'capitalist grip of the commercial stage theatres', the 
same was impossible in the film industry, where projects demanded 
far bigger budgets, and that even if capital for the production of a 
proletarian film was made available, distribution regulations and 
censorship would prevent them from reaching the masses: 

With this insight we have already answered the question to what extent 
the film of today can be a prophet, create a Utopia, show us the future: it 
cannot. The class that wholly dominates it doesn't like giving a prognosis 
of the future ... [this class] feels too insecure about its own status to give 
the future a serious thought. 6 

This comment clearly illustrates Marxist film criticism's emphasis 
on the prevailing link between the mode of production and 
the dominant bourgeois ideology in film. Eggebrecht's view of 
capitalism as an economic system in its final stages, unable to 
produce a vision of the future because of the inevitability of social 
change in the form of proletarian revolution, shows the focus on 
political agitation in communist writing on film. 

Eggebrecht's critique is characteristic of wider Marxist debates 
on film, but he also draws attention to the generic specificity of the 
SF film, arguing that film's ability to represent reality as well as 
spectacular fantastical images makes it the medium 'most capable 
of showing us a future that does not as yet exist'. 7 He predicts that 
film, used to suppress the proletariat at this stage, will eventually 
help to liberate it. For now, he argues, SF films can only paint a 
'despairing' image of the future, because any vision of the future 


is inextricably linked to political ways of seeing: 'There can be no 
Utopia without [political] conviction, optimism, or goals': 

However, the producers of today's films have no other goal than to 
make money.... Film's capitalist structure keeps it from fulfilling its most 
important obligations. Not until our brighter future itself approaches can 
[film] be the instrument of this future. Any theoretical recognition of its 
possibilities cannot alter that fact. 8 

Significantly, although Eggebrecht concedes that capitalism is still 
the dominant mode of production in all industries, including film, 
he repeatedly refers to the 'demise' of the era and of a (capitalist) 
class 'insecure' about 'its own status'. In contrast, in Weimar's 
rapidly industrialised society the proletariat, currently suppressed 
by a (democratic) system that guarantees ownership of capital, is 
readying itself to take over what Eggebrecht calls 'the machines'. 
SF's capacity to show audiences glimpses of a Utopian post- 
capitalist future is suppressed by the film industry. 

The question of the future, and of how it is represented on 
screen, is one of the key issues for Marxist film critics, for whom 
the historical development towards a post-capitalist society is 
part of a rational process, not a dystopian fantasy. Any anxiety 
about the future is part of a wider insecurity of the bourgeoisie 
faced with an increasingly class-conscious proletariat. SF in 
Weimar cinema thus becomes a site of conflict between rational 
and irrational positions on a textual and meta-textual level. The 
following analyses of Metropolis and Frau im MoncP will take 
the critical reception of both films as a starting point to elucidate 
the thematic and stylistic similarities and differences in their 
methods and meanings with reference to aspects of the Weimar 
context. The aim of this comparative approach is to trace the 
critics' examination of the films' ideological function while also 
- in addition to their narrative-based reviews - taking Lang's 
scrupulous handling of film rhetoric into account. 


Since its premiere in Berlin in January 1927, critics have found 
the wealth of discourses, themes and art-historical references 


in Fritz Lang's Metropolis a fertile ground for discussion. In an 
extensive review of Metropolis, Willy Haas, one of Weimar's most 
prominent critics writing for the Film-Kurier, summarises the 
content of Metropolis as follows: 

A little Christianity, with the idea of the 'mediator', of religious services in 
the catacombs, of the holy mother of humankind Maria ... a little socialism, 
with the thoroughly modern cult of the machine, the proletariat enslaved 
and robbed of their souls, and the perfect 'accumulation of capital', to put 
it in entirely Marxist terms ... a little Nietzscheanism, with the worship of 
the superman. 10 

Above all, contemporary critics pointed out the lack of a clear 
perspective about the future in Lang's film. Willy Haas notes, 
'Everything is mixed together so carefully in such a way that 
the script manages neatly to evade any suggestion of an uncom- 
promising idea and no "tendency" - Heaven forbid - is able to 
develop'. 11 Several other critics interpreted the film's lack of any 
clear 'tendencies' in explicit political terms, aware that Lang's 
'future film' presented a forceful comment on contemporary 
Weimar society's ideas and fears of the future. 12 For example, 
Herbert Ihering pointedly describes Metropolis as 'an ideological 
film without an ideology', able to accommodate a 'technical city 
of the future and the romanticism of the shady bower', which 
reduces 'factual' themes into 'atrocious kitsch'. 13 For him, it can 
only produce empty gestures, devoid of political meaning: 'Effects 
not because ideologies urge towards explosions, but because the 
film wants its effects'. 14 

Eggebrecht's review of Metropolis is one of the most explicitly 
Marxist readings of the film. Interestingly, he writes his review as 
if in an imagined future, introducing it as a 'preview' of a film- 
historical study written and published in the year 2003: 

It was the fashion of the first phase between the great class wars of the 
20* century, which we now refer to as the middle European mediocrity: the 
upper classes ordered their intellectual advisers to wrestle with the creation 
of a world view, which already no longer existed. Exhausted, insecure, full 
of a secret anxiety about the impending explosions of social tensions, these 


superstitious minds found refuge in the symbolism of the middle ages and 
in a desperate-snobbish admiration of machines, whose dull rhythm their 
tired souls couldn't comprehend, which is why they found them adorable 
in a romantic-atavistic fashion ... In those times lived Fritz Lang. 15 

Eggebrecht thus defines the 1920s as a time of great social tensions 
on the brink of 'explosion'. Although the years 1924-29 were 
not as unstable politically and economically as the immediate 
post-war years, the Republic's parliament was largely unable to 
govern, partly due to the lack of compromise between pro- and 
anti-democratic parties in the Reichstag. Ineffective coalitions 
confirmed the flaws of a parliamentary democratic system to 
communists and emerging fascist groupings; in this context, 
Eggebrecht's review illustrates the standpoint of a writer for 
whom radical political change is not a Utopia but a prospect 
of the near future. His comment about 'impending explosions 
of social tensions' once more points to his historical-materialist 
understanding that the increasing conflict between proletariat and 
bourgeoisie marks the final stage before revolutionary change 
will bring about a classless society. From his imaginary viewpoint 
in 2003, this social revolution has already occurred, hence his 
agitational opening remark on Weimar Germany as a mere 'phase' 
between class wars. 

In his review, Eggebrecht calls Metropolis 'a gigantic labyrinth 
of half-truths and misunderstandings, truly a mirror and reflection 
of its times', and repeatedly refers to Lang and von Harbou as part 
of a class of intellectuals out of touch with the issues they wish 
to represent: 'Lang sought to unite and reconcile all the currents 
and convictions of the mind in this Uber-Chicago of our supposed 
future'. 16 Eggebrecht's decision to write about the film from an 
imagined future position creates an interesting slippage between 
the present as 'past' and a future that is, supposedly, almost here. 
Both the film and the writing on the film thus signal a shared 
consciousness of society 'on the brink' of change; yet, whereas 
Lang's film can only present the future as a capitalist Uber-Chicago, 
Eggebrecht's review presents a post-capitalist viewpoint. 


Frau im Mond 

In his October 1929 review of Frau im Mond in the weekly Berlin 
culture magazine Die Weltbuhne, Rudolf Arnheim's scathing 
opening remarks sum up his view of Lang's latest picture: 

Fritz Lang films are parvenus, trashy novels that have come into money. The 
fact that one of the Nick Carter rags, which appear in this film as extras, 
only cost ten pfennigs, although By Rocket to the Moon cost millions, is 
really the only difference between the two products." 

In a similar vein, Herbert Ihering comments in the Berliner 
Borsen-Courier on the day after the premiere: 'Again, and 
again, we observe [Lang] fail when it comes to the topic, the 
script, the text'. 18 Heinz Pol, writing for the Vossische Zeitung, 
accuses Lang of treating his chosen subject-matter without the 
gravity it merits: 'The modern idea of the rocket vehicle, the 
rocket plane, as well as certain notions of what might well be 
possible in future, surely to be taken seriously, have not been 
popularised, but intolerably vulgarised'. 1 * Hans Sahl's review in 
Der Montag Morgen, caustically entitled 'Shady bower inside 
the moon rocket', refers to the outcome of Fritz Lang and Thea 
von Harbou's collaboration as 'technologically advanced Jugend 
Stil fantasies, facades without content, Blue Stocking inside the 
moon rocket'. 20 

Although the majority of critics readily acknowledged Lang's 
achievement in terms of accurately portraying modern rocket 
technology through the use of expert camera work and trick 
technology, this aspect of Frau im Mond was overshadowed by 
what the critics in the aforementioned reviews perceived as its 
excessive sentimentality, the proverbial 'shady bower' inside the 
moon rocket. The critics located much of the film's 'kitsch' in the 
script, based on a novel by Thea von Harbou originally serialised 
in the magazine Die Woche in 1928. 

Ufa, the studio responsible for financing and marketing the 
film, 21 enlisted Hermann Oberth, a lay astronomer and author of 
a popular scientific study on space travel entitled Die Rakete zu 
den PlanetenrdumenlBy Rocket into Planetary Space (1923), to 


work as technical advisor, and Willy Ley, an author of aggressively 
nationalistic SF novels, to act as scientific advisor on the project. 22 
In the run-up to the premiere, Frau im Mond, as a silent film in the 
period of transition to sound cinema, was extensively marketed 
in order to draw in audiences (who were developing a taste for 
'talkies'), and particular emphasis was given to the film's serious 
'scientific' credentials and the accuracy of its representation of 
modern technologies. 

Drawing on scientific knowledge and existing technologies is of 
course characteristic of SF, but the insistence on scientific accuracy 
(up until the landing on the moon, from which point onwards the 
film's narrative develops in a purely fantastical direction) creates 
what critics perceived as a wholly dissatisfying and seemingly 
unbridgeable gap between the film's modern technological 
aspects and its nostalgic, sentimental aspiration, with the latter 
'vulgarising' the serious intention of the former. 

Friede Velten (Gerda Maurus) becomes the site where the 
conflict between the film's rational (technical) and the irrational 
(sentimental) aspects is played out, as the following example will 
illustrate. The first half of the film deals with the decision by 
entrepreneur Wolf Helius (Willy Fritsch) to travel to the moon 
based on the scientific plans by Georg Manfeldt (Klaus Pohl), a 
disgraced professor of astronomy. A group of businessmen and 
women, represented by their middleman Walt Turner (Fritz Rasp), 
are equally interested in Manfeldt's theory of gold reserves on the 
opposite side of the moon and, after commissioning the theft of 
the plans, use blackmail to coerce Helius into cooperating with 
them. Beleaguered Helius is further troubled by his secret feelings 
for Friede, an astronomy student engaged to his chief engineer 
and loyal friend, Hans Windegger (Gustav von Wangenheim). 
In the scene in question, set in the office in Helius's flat, Friede 
announces that she intends to join the moon expedition. Although 
Helius's flat is situated in a modern city building and is ostensibly 
furnished in the restrained, practical chic of the Bauhaus, the 
sober look of the interior is interspersed with objects rooted in 
a more esoteric style. Particularly noticeable is an expressionist 
painting on the wall of the office which depicts the universe in a 


spiralling mass of waves, circles and bright colours. Standing in 
front of the painting, Friede affirms her decision to join Helius on 
the trip. Ignoring his objections, she lifts her open-palmed hands 
to shoulder height, slightly tilts back her head, and raises her eyes 
towards the ceiling in a trance-like state. The posture gives her a 
saintly quality, and her elegant but simple white dress, adorned 
with a sprig of flowers over her chest, adds to the ethereal quality 
of the character. 

This pose is remarkably reminiscent of Metropolis's Maria 
(Brigitte Helm), preaching to the workers in the catacombs. Both 
characters embody a spiritual counterpoint to more materialistic 
characters, such as Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel) in Metropolis 
and the group of capitalists, aptly named 'Five Brains and 
Chequebooks', in Frau im Mond. When one of the Brains and 
Chequebooks, keen to get the expedition underway, exclaims, 
'Why lose more time? I for one want the moon's riches of gold, 
should they actually prove to exist, to fall into the hands of 
businessmen and not visionaries and idealists', the implication is 
that Friede represents the kinds of ideals to which the 'chequebook' 
objects - such as loyalty, courage, and belief in the importance of 
the expedition for humanity, rather than financial imperatives. 

Both Maria and Friede, in their display of pathos and emotional 
subjectivity, embody the ethical idealism, humanism and mystical 
religiosity typical of expressionist heroes, and yet they differ in 
the crucial aspect of their characters' relationship to technology. 
Andreas Huyssen describes Metropolis as a 'syncretist mixture 
of expressionism and Neue Sachlichkeit, and, more significantly, 
a syncretist mixture of the two diametrically opposed views of 
technology we can ascribe to these two movements'. 23 Although 
Huyssen influentially argued that Maria, in her 'machine vamp' 
manifestation, plays a crucial role in resolving this 'seemingly 
irreconcilable contradiction', 24 other critical perspectives have 
since emerged. For instance, R.L. Rutsky argues that the film is less 
concerned with resolving the conflict between 'modernism's fears 
of and fascination with technology' than with a desire to synthesise 
a 'rationalist, functionalist notion of technology and a notion that 
emphasizes the irrational, chaotic, and even destructive aspects of 


technology, that sees it as a dynamic, shocking, almost libidinal 
force'. 25 Nonetheless, the synthesis between these two opposed 
perspectives on technology remains unconvincing, and the film's 
ending is generally considered a problematic compromise between 
various narrative themes and ideological perspectives. 

Judging by the critical reception of Frau itn Mond, one could 
assume that the film presents an equally uneasy compromise 
between different ideologies as does Metropolis. Yet the Weimar 
critics cited above focus in their accusation of the 'shady bower 
inside the moon rocket' mostly on the film's narrative elements, 
neglecting to pay attention to its visual rhetoric. A closer look 
at the film's organisation of its mise-en-scene paints a rather 
different picture than that of the slightly grotesque 'Madonna in 
moon rocket with breeches'. Indeed, the focus on Friede as the 
site in which opposed views about technology are combined in 
paradoxical compromise reveals the ideological implications of 
this conciliation between - it seems - the 'hands, heart and the 
brain', which, I shall argue, leftist critics failed to consider in 
their dismissal of the film as nothing more than a 'trashy novel' 
appealing to a mass audience. 

Rocket Launch and Moon Rising 

The launch sequence, which opens the second half of the film, 
is significant in that it brings the contradictions identified by the 
various critics cited above to a dramatic climax. It depicts the 
final moments before the rocket launch. Friede climbs a rope- 
ladder to the top of the rocket, which Helius has also christened 
'Friede' (peace). Reaching the top, she enthusiastically waves at 
a group of mechanics below. The film cuts to the space outside 
the hangar, where a radio broadcaster commentates on the event. 
An intertitle reads: ' this moment bells will ring - the sirens 
of all the factories, trains and ships around the world will wail 
to honour the pioneers of space navigation...'. The following 
shot shows a large crowd of spectators in attendance at the site. 
Listening to the broadcast, the men in the crowd respectfully 
take off their hats. A montage of shots depicts the transportation 


of the rocket to its launch site in a water basin, followed by a 
panoramic shot of the location, which shows workshop halls, cars 
and people amid woods and gently sloping hills. On the distant 
horizon, the moon rises. 

Having swapped her white flowing dress for a jacket and 
breeches, and the passive, dreamlike state she occupied in Helius's 
office for a powerful display of vigorous activity, Friede's ascent 
of the rocket and her waving to the people below becomes a 
graphic embodiment of the strength and beauty of both the 
woman and the machine. She is empowered by the rocket, and 
her optimism reflects the film's opening title, 'There is no Never, 
only a Not Yet'. The rural setting of the launch provides a 
curiously pastoral background, and the link between technology 
and nature is enhanced by the fact that take-off is scheduled at 
moonrise. The moon, traditionally linked with femininity and 
natural flow (both tides and menstrual cycles), strengthens the 
link between modern technology and femininity already brought 
into play. A range of narrational choices thus emphasise the 
union between the two 'Friedes' - the woman and the machine, 
installing a soul into the cold steel construct, and the radio 
broadcast, which compels the men to take off their hats (as one 
would in a church) infuses the scientific mission with ostensibly 
religious and nationalist overtones. 

The combination of these various elements can be related 
to what Jeffrey Herf has identified as 'reactionary modernism' 
- namely a loosely organised system of perceptions and beliefs 
which 'incorporated modern technology into the cultural 
system of modern German nationalism, without diminishing the 
latter's romantic and antirational aspects'. 26 According to Herf, 
reactionary modernist thinkers 'turned the romantic anticapitalism 
of the German Right away from backward-looking pastoralism, 
pointing instead to the outlines of a beautiful new order replacing 
the formless chaos due to capitalism in a united, technologically 
advanced nation'. 27 

Another moment linking Friede to the rocket occurs after 
the moon landing. In this scene, she prevents Walt Turner from 
entering the cockpit (with the intention of taking off and leaving 


the rest of the crew behind) by wedging her left arm between 
the door and the door handle and stretching her right arm up to 
grip one of the loops suspended from the ceiling in order to pull 
the door towards her. With her arms thus stretched wide apart, 
she presents a crucifixion image not dissimilar to the scene in 
Metropolis in which Freder is suspended on the dials of a machine. 
Yet, whereas Freder is symbolically sacrificed on the machine, 
Friede sacrifices herself to defend the rocket (in the end, Helius 
and Friede give up their places in the rocket so that the other 
passengers, Friede's fiance and the young stowaway Gustav (Gustl 
Stark-Gstettenbaur), can safely return to Earth). 

To dismiss these themes and visual motifs as sentimental kitsch 
is to ignore, or at the very least denigrate, their impact on the 
audience. Despite being a silent film in an era in which sound 
films were becoming the extremely popular norm, Frau im Mond 
was the most successful film in Germany in 1929 - a fact widely 
ignored by the critics writing on it. 28 In fact, Weimar critic Fritz 
Olimsky notes in his review that 4 At the end of the film, the 
premiere audience roared with enthusiasm whilst the premiere 
hacks [Premierenunken] went to the literature cafes and tore it 
apart'. 29 Sabine Hake identifies the 'unwillingness to address the 
question of mass entertainment and mass media' 30 as one of the 
key shortcomings of leftist film criticism. 

'Nick Carter Rags': Frau im Mond's Engagement 
with its Own Rhetoric 

A film's relationship with its own material was often overlooked 
in the reviews by left-wing writers at the time. In Frau im 
Mond, although several elements in the film's narrative express 
reactionary modernist tendencies, there are other elements in 
the film's systems of narration which arguably work to qualify 
or counter them. Early sequences contain a variety of generic 
elements rooted in the serial thriller genre of the early 1920s. 
In the urban environment of the modern city, we witness the 
spectacularly staged theft of Manfeldt's manuscripts (in which 
Helius is drugged by a fake flower girl) and a speedy car chase 


through the streets of Berlin. The fast-flowing action and frequent 
crosscutting between simultaneously unfolding events is very 
similar to techniques employed in Lang's thrillers - Dr Mabuse, 
der Spieler (1922), Spione (1928), M (1931), Das Testament des 
Dr Mabuse (1933) - to maximise spectacle and excitement. At 
one point we observe the young boy Gustav reading a comic, the 
cover of which shows a spaceship approaching the planet Saturn. 
The comics reappear later in the film, when Gustav is discovered 
onboard the moon rocket. Proudly announcing that he has been 
studying astronomy all his life, he produces from his rucksack a 
number of comics featuring the hero Mingo, dubbed 'The Nick 
Carter of the Skies'. 31 They are passed around among the adults, 
who laugh at such titles as 'Moon Vampires', 'The Mystery of the 
Deadly Moon Rays' and 'Battling with Moon Calves'. As in the 
earlier sequence, the cover of each comic is pointedly depicted in 
close-up. Although the adults are amused by Gustav's claim to 
have studied the 'moon problem', these moments point towards 
a key cultural phenomenon of the Weimar republic, namely the 
growth of the mass media. 

The existence of this kind of cosmopolitan and liberal mass 
culture differs greatly from the spiritual, obedient and self- 
sacrificing values embodied by Friede. Thea von Harbou's 
original novel, although serialised in a popular magazine, makes 
no reference to the comics to which the film repeatedly draws 
attention. This difference demonstrates the extent to which the 
film qualifies its own sentimental 'shady bower' rhetoric by 
embracing elements drawn from popular culture, juxtaposing 
the novel's anachronistic characters (such as Friede) with emerging 
popular culture heroes reflecting a modern social consciousness 
(such as Mingo). 

Yet, significantly, the response by critics as influential as Rudolf 
Arnheim was to dismiss both the film and the Nick Carter 'rags' 
as merely cheap 'ten pfennig' popular mass entertainment. As 
Sabine Hake observes, 'Fixated as they were on the conditions of 
production, most leftist film critics failed to grasp the potentially 
subversive quality of visual pleasure', but when 'critics did pay 
attention to audience psychology, they invariably became more 


aware of the correspondences between the spheres of production 
and reproduction'. 32 She gives the example of Walter Pahl, who 
suggested that the cinema 'is the emotional substitute, indeed, one 
could almost say the side product of the capitalist-industrial work 
conditions'. 33 Pahl's observation about the quasi-compensatory 
character of cinema presages Richard Dyer's influential argument, 
developed decades later in 'Entertainment and Utopia' (1977), 
that bourgeois cinema does indeed respond to 'real needs created 
by society'. 34 

David Durst draws attention to the opposed and opposing social, 
political and cultural wants and needs in Weimar society: 

Nowhere in Western Europe . . . was this unstable and alternating amalgam 
of residual, dominant, and emergent socioeconomic forces and cultural 
formations more prevalent, nowhere was the contradiction between 
advanced capital development and older political beliefs so acute than 
in modern Germany, this 'classical land of non-simultaneity' as Bloch 
termed it." 

For Weimar Marxist and leftist liberal critics with their rational, 
materialist, quintessentially forward-looking perspective to 
'overlook' what Carl Schorske terms the 'suspension between 
the once-was and the not-yet' 36 meant to ignore the backward- 
looking, irrational, sentimental, nostalgic and romantic cravings 
of a mass audience going to the movies for reasons more complex 
than mere escapism. In his illuminating review of Frau im Mond, 
Herbert Ihering insists on the need for a 'common ground' of 
reason as a basis for understanding and communication, which 
he - crucially - argues, 'is a ground which can be easily won 
anywhere these days, where the kinds of people able to cope with 
the challenges [Abenteuer] of technology, can be found'. 37 This 
suggests the possibility of a 'common ground' not steeped in a 
society's yearning for a universal bucolic past, but in anticipation 
of a possible future, its various manifestations already tangible in 
a modern city like 1920s Berlin. 

Frau im Mond locates the existence of such a society in the 
perceptible growth of mass communication and entertainment 
catering for an urban audience with a newfound desire for, and 


access to, knowledge and political emancipation as traditional 
(pre-war) hierarchies were attacked and began to dissolve. The 
film signals the growth of and demand for these popular media 
through its emphasis on the comic books, and through the ever- 
increasing presence of newsreel cameramen and radio broadcasts 
during the launch sequence (from the above-mentioned shots of 
the radio commentator and the audience gathered on site, to a 
trick photography shot - a collage of countless disembodied heads 
and intertitles pulsing, wave-like, across the screen - rendering 
visible the very transmission of the broadcast to a hitherto 
invisible global audience). Admiring rather than afraid of the 
rocket, the spectators who enthusiastically applaud the 'pioneers 
of space travel' evidently exist not only in the world of the film 
but, arguably, inside (and outside) the cinema. 

Given the centrality afforded the rocket-ship in such spectacular 
sequences, it is unsurprising that many critics saw this representa- 
tion of modern technology as a glimpse of Utopia sullied by the 
late-romanticist twaddle of the shady bower. But such glimpses 
are perhaps not so much centred on the rocket - a vehicle as 
much open to subjugation by reactionary modernism's pre-fascist 
thought as to offering a glimpse of a future different from (and for 
materialists invariably better than) the present - as on the film's 
serial thriller elements and the visual foregrounding of Gustav's 
comics. For Ernst Bloch, as Mary N. Layoun notes, 

there is no easy dismissal of low or popular culture, of the unorthodox, 
of the politically incorrect, of the false. And so the text - whether a 
daydream, a fascist propaganda sheet, a fairy tale, an advertisement, or an 
expressionist painting - can function (for its audience and/or its producer) 
as a figure of desire for something beyond itself, a something else that 
looks not back to a past but forward (the 'Vor" of Vorschein) to a not yet 
quite foreseeable future. 38 

In the film, the modern media articulate the desire for the passing 
of old hierarchies and for full human communication without 
rank or privilege. However, in Bloch's terms, while Utopia 'exists, 
to a considerable, degree, in the dimension of futurity', it is not 
'in the future as the latter is imagined by mere chronological 


forecasting, or in the mechanistic and philistine notions of 
bourgeois "progress," but rather as the future is the object of 
hope, of our deepest and most radical longings'. 39 As Vincent 
Geoghegan writes, 

What is most desired is missing in the often uncontrollable present but can 
be present in a controllable, if, in varying degrees, mythic, past. Harmony, 
warmth, and belonging can live in the supposed golden days of long ago. . . . 
The future ... is not a return to the past but draws sustenance from this past. 
Memory is the means in the present to ground the future in the past. 40 

In this context, Frau im Mond's shady bower does not vulgarise 
the possibility of a future Utopia but expresses it - intertwining it 
with the futurity proposed by the rocket, and mediating it into the 
present moment through the instruments of a mass media and a 
popular culture that the film's makers did not control but which 
they could utilise, reflect upon and critique. 


1 . My title derives from Heinz Pol's quip, 'Madonna in der Mondrakete, 
mit Breeches, versteht sich', in his review 'Die Frau im Mond: 
Der neue Lang-Film', Vossiscbe Zeitung 489 (16 October 1929), 
reprinted in Gero Gandert, ed., Der Film der Weimarer Republik: 
1929 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1997), p. 203. My translation. 

2. Sabine Hake, The Cinema's Third Machine: Writing on Film in 
Germany 1907-1933 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993), 
p. 192. 

3. Cited in Toni Stooss, 'Erobert den Film! Oder "Prometheus" gegen 
"Ufa" & Co', in Neue Gesellschaft fur Bildende Kunst, eds, Erobert 
den Film! (Berlin: NGBK, 1977), p. 16. My translation. First steps 
towards a strong proletarian film culture were taken by publicist 
Willy Miinzenberg in his pamphlet Let's Conquer Film (1925), 
and in his effort to increase the import of Russian films. In 1925, 
Miinzenberg founded Prometheus Film, which eventually produced 
its own revolutionary proletarian films, Mother Krause's Journey 
to Happiness (Jutzi, 1929) and Kuhle Wampe (Dudow and Brecht, 

4. Hake, Cinema's Third Machine, p. 31. 

5. Axel Eggebrecht, 'Technik, Arbeit und Wissenschaft der Zukunft: 
Moglichkeiten eines Zukunftsfilms', Kulturwille 6 (1927). Archive 


Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin. My translation. Although 
never fully translated into English, a summary of its main points 
and a translation of the final paragraph can be found in Wolfgang 
Jacobsen, Werner Sudendorf, Martin Koerber and Yvonne Rehhahn, 
Metropolis: Ein filtnisches Laboratorium der modernen Architektur/ 
A cinematic Laboratory for Modern Architecture (Berlin: Axel 
Menges, 2000). 

6. Eggebrecht, 'Technik, Arbeit und Wissenschaft', p. 124. 

7. Ibid., p. 124. 

8. Ibid., p. 124. 

9. The latter title alludes to German romantic Wilhelm Hauff's novella, 
Der Mann im Mond (1825), which parodied the sentimental fiction 
of Heinrich Clauren. In a 1973 interview, Lang comments: 'I had 
made a film called Woman in the Moon, contrary to the Man in the 
Moon, hey' (Barry Keith Grant, Fritz Lang: Interviews (Jackson: 
University of Mississippi Press, 2003), p. 171). In the US, the film 
is also known as By Rocket to the Moon. 

1 0. Michael Minden and Holger Bachmann, eds, Fritz Lang's Metropolis: 
Cinematic Visions of Technology and Fear ( Woodbridge: Camden 
House, 2000), p. 85. The Film-Kurier was a daily paper founded 
in 1919. Initially conceived as an industry paper, it became the 
country's most widely read film daily by the mid 1920s, mostly due 
to the high quality of its film reviews and discussions. Karl Priimm 
writes about Willy Haas, the paper's chief editor: 'Film criticism 
for Haas was an act of revolutionary writing, which returned to 
prelapsarian beginnings, where object and critical discourse were one 
and the same thing. This hope gave his texts their dynamics, which 
were always more than mere commentaries' (Wolfgang Jacobsen, 
Karl Priimm and Benno Wenz, eds, Willy Haas: Der Kritiker als 
Mitproduzent. Textezum Film 1920-1933 (Berlin: Hentrich, 1991), 
p. 12. My translation). 

11. Minden and Bachmann, Fritz Lang, p. 85. 

12. Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska note that the 'speculative mode 
of science fiction has always included the potential to ask politically- 
informed questions about our own society' (Science Fiction Cinema 
(London: Wallflower, 2000), p. 22). 

13. Minden and Bachmann, Fritz Lang, p. 87. 

14. Ibid., p. 87. 

15. Axel Eggebrecht, 'Metropolis 1 , Die Weltbiihne 3 (18 January 
1927), p. 115. Archive Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin. My 

16. Ibid., p. 115. My translation. 

17. Brenda Benthien, ed. and transl., Rudolf Arnheim: Film Essays and 
Criticism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997), p. 152. 


18. Herbert Ihering, 'Frau im Mond\ Berliner Borsen-Courier 484 
(16 October 1929), reprinted in Gandert, Der Film der Weimarer 
Republik, p. 201. 

19. Pol, 'Die Frau im Mond\ p. 203. 

20. Hans Sahl 'Die Gartenlaube in der Mondrakete: Frau im Mond\ 
Der Montag Morgen 42 (21 October 1929), reprinted in Gandert, 
Der Film der Weimarer Republik, p. 56. In German, the term 
'Gartenlaube' ('arbour' or 'shady bower') carries the influential 
figurative meaning of sentimental twaddle, rooted in its evocation 
of the German late-romantic epoch of 'Biedermeier' (1850-75), a 
literary and artistic style characterised by a conservative or apolitical 
stance and a focus on impressionist moments, during the time of 
politically conservative 'Restoration' in Germany. 'Gartenlaube' 
thus heavily evokes the notion of the philistine petit bourgeois 
(characterised in generic Spitzweg paintings), who is ignorant of arts 
and culture and who adapts to, rather than rebels against, his own 
political subjugation. It is interesting to note that the term appears 
in several reviews of Metropolis and Frau im Mond, as a kind of 
shorthand for what reviewers perceived as sentimental nonsense in 
both films. 

2 1 . For detailed accounts of the film's production see Rainer Eisfeld, 'Frau 
im Mond: Technische Vision und psychologisches Zeitbild' in Thea 
von Harbou, Frau im Mond (Munich: Heyne, 1989), Guntram Geser, 
Fritz Lang - Metropolis und Die Frau im Mond: ZukunftspZlm und 
Zukunftstechnik in der Stabilisierungszeit der Weimarer Republik 
(Meitlingen: Corian, 1996) and Klaus Kreimeier, Die UFA Story 
(Munich: Hanser, 1992). 

22. Geser, Fritz Lang, p. 96. Geser includes a comprehensive summary 
(pp. 94-107) of SF literature during the Weimar period. 

23. Andreas Huyssen, 'The Vamp and the Machine: Fritz Lang's 
Metropolis\ in After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, 
Postmodernism (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1986), 
p. 68. 

24. Ibid., p. 68. 

25. R.L. Rutsky, 'The Mediation of Technology and Gender: Metropolis, 
Nazism, Modernism', in Minden and Bachmann, Fritz Lang, 
p. 217. 

26. Jeffrey Herf, Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture and 
Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich (Cambridge: Cambridge 
University Press, 1984), p. 2. 

27. Ibid., p. 2. 

28. In a survey in the Film-Kurier, Frau im Mond was voted the most 
successful film of 1 929, relegating Arnold Franck's popular mountain 


film, The White Hell of Pitz Palu (1929), to second place. See Film- 
Kurier (31 May 1930), reprinted in the document section of Gerd 
Albrecht, ed., Retrospektive Fritz Lang. Dokumentation. Teil 1: Die 
Zeit und die Filme bis zum Jahre 1933 in Deutschland (Bad Ems: 
Verband der Deutschen Filmclubs, 1964), p. 6j/3. 

29. Fritz Olimsky, 'Frau im Mond\ Berliner Bbrsen-Zeitung 484 
(16 October 1929), reprinted in Gandert, Der Film der Weimarer 
Republik, p. 202. 

30. Hake, Cinema's Third Machine, p. 200. 

31. Nick Carter was an immensely popular fictional detective, who 
debuted in the New York Weekly dime novel in 1886, had his 
own dime novel series, The Nick Carter Library, from 1896, and 
appeared in thousands of stories in a variety of Street &C Smith 
publications in the US. Many Nick Carter stories were reprinted 
overseas, and he also appeared in a number of films from 1908 
onwards, and in Europe as well as the US. In the 1940s and 1950s 
he had radio and comic book series in the US, and was subsequently 
reinvented as a Bond-like spy for a series of over 250 novels between 
1964 and 1990. 

32. Hake, Cinema's Third Machine, p. 200. 

33. Quoted in Hake, Cinema's Third Machine, p. 201. 

34. Richard Dyer, Only Entertainment (London: Routledge, 2002), 
p. 26; emphasis in original. 

35. David C. Durst, Weimar Modernism (London: Lexington, 2004), 
p. xxiv. 

36. Quoted in Durst, Weimar Modernism, p. xxiv. 

37. Ihering, 'Frau im Mono", p. 202. 

38. Mary N. Layoun, 'A Small Reflection on a Dream Thrice Removed 
of Hope from a Refugee Camp', in Jamie Owen Daniel and Tom 
Moylan, Not Yet: Reconsidering Ernst Block (London and New 
York: Verso, 1997), p. 226. 

39. Carl Freedman, Critical Theory and Science Fiction (Hanover: 
Wesleyan University Press, 2000), p. 64. 

40. Vincent Geoghegan, 'Remembering the Future', in Daniel and 
Moylan, Nor Yet, pp. 17, 31. 



Rob Latham 

In William Gibson's 'The Gernsback Continuum' (1981), the 
narrator, a photographer commissioned to illustrate a coffee-table 
tome, The Airstream Futuropolis: The Tomorrow That Never 
Was, finds himself haunted by the 'semiotic ghost[s]' of American 
modernism, hallucinatory shimmers of neon and chrome, shark- 
fins and lucite. These phantasms cohere in a vision straight out 
of classic SF, an 'idealized city that drew on Metropolis and 
Things to Come, but squared everything, soaring up through an 
architect's perfect clouds to zeppelin docks and mad neon spires'. 
An incarnation of one of the 'spray-paint pulp Utopias' featured 
on the covers of Hugo Gernsback 's Amazing Stories in the 1 920s, 
this retro paradise shimmers briefly in the Nevada desert before 
evaporating, leaving the narrator with a vague sense that 'the 
Future had come to America first, but had finally passed it by'. 1 
Gibson makes no bones about the political implications of 
this vanished future, depicting the denizens of his Utopian city as 
creepy blonde Aryans, 

smug, happy, and utterly content with themselves and their world.... I 
imagined them thronging the plazas of white marble, orderly and alert, their 
bright eyes shining with enthusiasm for their floodlit avenues and silver 
cars.... It had all the sinister fruitiness of Hitler Youth propaganda. 2 

Yet pulp-era SF, while now often viewed as naive or even 
reactionary, was in fact 'linked to central elements of progressive 
thought', 3 such as the 'enlightened technocracy' movement of the 
1920s, whose populist advocacy of science education shaped the 



avid didacticism of Gernback's magazines, and the Popular Front 
activities of the Young Communist League of the 1930s, which 
influenced the SF fan group the Futunans (which included Isaac 
Asimov, Frederik Pohl and CM. Kornbluth). It was only during 
the post-World War II period, with the growing consolidation 
of a hegemonic American technocracy, that the imagery and 
values of pulp SF came to be seen as a politically dubious, if not 
dangerous, assemblage of 'showy proto-fascist trappings'. 4 Rather 
than providing a pop apology for corporate technoscience, pulp 
SF celebrated the genius of individual scientists and engineers, 
whose inspired tinkerings 'went well beyond the limited purview 
of industrial capitalism, stretching those limits into unmanageable 
realms of social invention'. 5 

Of course, the target of Gibson's satire is as much the modernist 
architectural movement as it is pulp SF. Indeed, his story could 
as readily be titled 'The Corbusier Continuum', its delirious 
projection of an 'illuminated city' 6 being a sarcastic take on the 
Swiss visionary's 'Ville radieuse', a classless Utopia of towering 
skyscrapers and immaculate public parks. Le Corbusier's Utopian 
manifestos began appearing in the 1920s, inspired in part by the 
burgeoning New York skyline, as was Fritz Lang's cinematic vision 
in Metropolis (1927). Many of the basic features of his idealised 
'city of tomorrow' 7 had been anticipated in Gernsback's own 
futuristic romance, Ralph 124C 41+ (1911-12), wherein New 
York City circa ad 2660 is a centrally planned complex of soaring 
high-rises, traversed vertically by electro-magnetic elevators and 
horizontally by aerocabs, powered by massive solar generators, 
and graced by 'municipal playgrounds' for leisure and recreation. 8 
During the 1920s and 1930s, such visions of the modern city 
had potentially progressive implications, inspiring the Soviet con- 
structivists and other left-wing avant-gardes, whose ambitious 
goal was conurbations designed for the use and gratification of 
all.' Despite occasional warnings such as Yevgeny Zamyatin's 
We (1924), which decried an autocratic future dominated by 
glass-walled monoliths, it was only later that such monumentalist 
schemes would inevitably come to convey a 'sinister totalitarian 
dignity, like the stadiums Albert Speer built for Hitler'. 10 


Yet even if one discounts the overblown accusations of fascism, 
it nonetheless remains the case that an abiding ambivalence 
towards cities, especially centrally planned urban Utopias, was 
evident in futuristic literature well prior to the post-war period. 
The idealised metropolis, technologically advanced and purged of 
social conflict, in Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (1888), 
was counterbalanced by the depiction of future New York in 
Ignatius Donnelly's Caesar's Column (1890), a city governed by 
a plutocratic elite at the expense of an impoverished, restless 
proletariat. The growing perception that the modern city was 
not assuaging, but rather exacerbating, social divisions, and that 
the outcome might be an eruption of revolutionary violence, 
led to the rise, at the turn of the century, of the Garden City 
movement, which sought, through holistic reform, to create 
collectively owned municipalities governed for the common good. 
However, the necessity of compromise with capitalist interests 
- such as landlords, who balked at the notion of abolishing ground 
rents - tended to dilute its collectivist basis, leaving merely the 
innovation of centralised urban planning, which generated a host 
of new-town blueprints and other suburban schemes well into the 
twentieth century. 11 

The ambivalence towards the industrial city evident in 
nineteenth-century Utopian writing also marks the history of left- 
wing theoretical engagements with urbanism. Classic Marxist 
theory has little to say about cities as such, apart from Engels' 
expose of The Condition of the Working Class in England (1844), 
with its stark rendering of the ills of urban poverty, and his essay 
on 'The Housing Question' (1872), which analysed the role of 
real estate speculation in breeding crowded slums. Marx himself, 
aside from sporadic observations about the role of metropolitan 
agglomeration in promoting proletarian class consciousness, 
offered no overarching theory of urbanisation, and often seemed 
deeply suspicious of the cosmopolitan ethos of inveterate urban 
demimondes, as in his portrait of the hangers-on at the court of 
Louis Bonaparte: 


decayed roues with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, 
alongside ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie ... vagabonds, 
discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, 
mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux 
[pimps], brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife 
grinders, tinkers, beggars - in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated 
mass, thrown hither and thither, which the French call la bohtme} 2 

Yet such scathing visions of bohemian decadence must be balanced 
against Marx's own clear fondness for 'the cultural infrastructure 
of cities' - for example, his longtime refuge, the British Museum 
- and their welcoming embrace of 'maverick spirits and dissidents' 
like himself. 13 And Marx's occasional praise for how the industrial 
concentration of urban population was systematically overcoming 
rustic seclusion - 'the idiocy of rural life' 14 - left little doubt where 
his real sympathies lay. 

It was not until Walter Benjamin's celebration of the flaneur in 
the 1 930s, however, that a serious Marxist defence of cosmopolitan 
existence would be articulated. For Benjamin, the nineteenth- 
century strollers of the Parisian boulevards and the shopping 
arcades emerged as urban heroes, renegade dreamers wandering 
amid the alienated phantasms of capitalist modernity. Yet the 
flaneur remains a decidedly ambivalent creature, beguiled by urban 
fashion while sensing all too plainly the hollow 'enthronement 
of merchandise' it represents. 15 Hardly an agent of revolutionary 
change, this anonymous drifter is a 'threshold' figure, seeking 
refuge in the crowd yet never fully of it, an amalgam of naivete 
and cynicism who perceives finally the emptiness of the 'cult 
of commodities' surrounding him. 16 The flaneur's half-hearted 
cosmopolitanism prefigures the programme of urban cultural 
combat articulated by the French situationists in the 1960s; while 
undoubtedly more militant in its postures and strategies, the latter 
too concedes the ineradicable alienation of private experience 
in the face of a commodified cityscape swiftly receding behind 
a veil of total reification - 'a pseudo-world apart', a 'fallacious 
paradise'. 17 Ethico-political alliances with working-class groups 


remain as ambiguous, in the situationists' society of the spectacle, 
as the flaneur's vague alignment with the crowd: 

situationist writing carried over some of the fl&neur's cavalier attitudes; 
page upon page passionately denounced alienation and extolled revolution, 
but the reader was only directed toward a deeper understanding of the 
ghetto-dwellers' real lives with an anonymous wave of the hand. 18 

In short, the analysis and defence of urban experience has, for 
left-wing theorists, been fraught with pitfalls and contradictions 
from the outset. It was not until the rise of Marxist geography 
in the early 1970s, with the early work of Manuel Castells and 
David Harvey, 19 that successful attempts were made to wed a 
detailed critique of urban structure with a tentative embrace of 
cosmopolitan practices. This development coincided with an SF 
movement - the so-called 'New Wave' - devoted, at least in part, 
to revisiting and reconceiving representations of the city inherited 
from the pulps. 20 In the balance of this essay, I will read these two 
bodies of material against one another, to see how cutting-edge 
urban theory and avant-garde speculative fiction conspired, during 
the 1970s, to offer a multi-pronged - and potent - diagnosis of 
the looming crisis of the modern city. 

For the city was definitely in crisis, as evidenced by the plight 
of New York, which was compelled, in 1975, to seek a federal 
bailout to avoid imminent bankruptcy and the suspension of 
services. 21 This emergency was spurred by contingent historical 
factors, such as a spike in energy costs prompted by the OPEC oil 
embargo and the resulting stagflation, but they merely accelerated 
a recessionary process already well underway, highlighting and 
intensifying the effects of deep-seated structural contradictions 
in metropolitan organisation. In particular, the city government's 
role in orchestrating 'collective consumption' was swiftly 
reaching a point of diminishing returns. According to Castells, 
collective consumption is the 'consumption of commodities whose 
production is not assured by capital, not because of some intrinsic 
quality, but because of the specific and general interests of capital'; 
such commodities - for example, mass transportation, public 
education, social services of various kinds - are 'necessary to 


the reproduction of labour power and/or to the reproduction 
of social relations', but their overhead has traditionally been 
absorbed by the state and funded by taxes, municipal bonds and 
other public financing measures. 22 These services are essential to 
capital because they reproduce and sustain the urban working 
classes while also shielding private profit from the attendant 
costs and risks. But the growing scope of public-sector services 
during the post-war period, combined with the economic shocks 
of the 1 970s, exposed - and shattered - the fragile social compact 
underlying this arrangement. 

As public services began to contract or fail, and as retrenchments 
were made in the system of collective consumption at the expense 
of the working class, the 'displaced class struggle' 23 latent in 
the built environment became more pointed and pronounced. 
Tensions over services emerged as flashpoints of economic and 
political combat, and the spatial inequalities of city life - for 
instance, the process of 'ghetto formation' that inevitably results 
from the patterns of capitalist land use 24 - provided fodder for 
collective demands for a more equitable distribution of civic space 
and resources. 25 While Harvey's early writings remained optimistic 
about the potential for genuine reform - for the consolidation 
of new modes of socio-economic reciprocity at the community 
level, reinvigorating even while displacing the frayed networks of 
traditional kinship and ethnicity - the actual historical outcome 
of the urban crisis of the 1970s was a series of privatisation 
strategies and so-called 'welfare reforms' that either converted 
municipal services into profit-making operations or else de-funded 
and devolved them onto overstrained local support systems. This 
neo-liberalist transformation is still ongoing, but it is fair to say 
that the repercussions have not obviously been progressive. 26 

I turn now to the question of how New Wave SF responded 
to this crisis of urban structure and city life. It is necessary to 
begin with the socio-political orientation of the New Wave, since 
it is commonly held that the movement was solidly on the left, 
in contrast to the presumed rightward slant of pulp SF. This is 
true to a certain extent, yet as we have seen, any attempt to 
characterise the pulp tradition as monolithically conservative 


is difficult to sustain in light of groups like the Futurians, who 
were in some ways more radical than their 1960s successors. 
What is fair to say is that New Wave writers were generally 
antipathetic towards technocratic institutions and values, 
embracing broadly countercultural alternatives; yet as with the 
counterculture itself, this posture often resolved into questions 
of personal philosophy rather than political commitments per se. 
This 'life-style SF', as Brian Aldiss calls it, placed 'the emphasis on 
experimental modes of living more in accord with contemporary 
pressures'. 27 To the extent that these pressures, during the 1960s 
and 1970s, had political ramifications, in the sense of entailing an 
ideological agenda, the New Wave was certainly on the left, but 
in the often hazy and amorphous way of most contemporaneous 
dissident movements. 

Having said this, to dismiss the New Wave as merely a series of 
lifestyle postures - as Thomas Disch has recently done, describing 
it as little more than 'the Zeitgeist demanded of SF in the Age of 
Aquarius ... a celebration of the [youth] audience's daydreams, of 
Inner Space and future fashions ... sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll' 28 
- is considerably to understate its militancy in context. Leaving 
aside the sheer churlishness of Disch's judgement, it is interesting 
to observe that its author is someone whose own work was at 
the forefront of New Wave innovation, both formal and political. 
Disch's novels of the 1960s, such as The Genocides (1965) and 
Camp Concentration (1968), were flashpoints of controversy 
within the field, staking out positions on social issues such as 
ecological destruction and out-of-control militarism calculated 
to provoke and infuriate conservative readers. 29 Disch was also 
the author of one of the most searching urban dystopias of the 
period, 334 (1972), whose caustic depiction of the socio-political 
crisis of the modern city set a new standard for SF's engagement 
with 'the urban question'. 

334 collects six interlinked stories focusing on the residents of 
a subsidised housing block in New York city, located at 334 East 
Eleventh Street, at the start of the third decade of the twenty-first 
century. It is a satirical projection of a looming near future in 
which Castells' collective consumption has reached unsustainable 


levels, spawning a vast bureaucracy, MODICUM, which (as its 
name implies) dictates a bare minimum of subsistence for all 
city dwellers. MODICUM, initiated in the 'pre-Squeeze affluent 
1980s' 30 in order to deal with the dovetailing crises of urban 
congestion and declining living standards, started out as a 
modest welfare programme, but soon morphed into a pervasive, 
paternalistic regime administering not only housing allotments 
but an invidious system of social credits that determines an 
individual's fitness for education, employment and even child- 
bearing. Self-serving calculations designed to game this system 
- for example, improving one's credit score through spurious good 
works or securing comfortable accommodations by exaggerating 
or manipulating one's dependants - have replaced traditional civic 
virtue, whose maintenance has been consigned to a well-meaning 
though woefully harassed cadre of social workers, one of whom 
comes to suspect 'that the great machineries of the welfare service 
might actually do more harm than good'. 31 

As this overview suggests, the novel's attitudes towards 
contemporary urban transformation are ambivalent - a blend 
of progressive critique and reactionary disgruntlement. Like the 
Marxist geographers, Disch plainly deplores the anti-democratic 
centralism of the city planners responsible for the glass-and-brick 
nightmares his characters inhabit, whose drab enormity evokes 
the wastelands of London's worst Council Estates or Chicago's 
Cabrini Green. Echoing Castells' critique of the 'deteriorated way 
of life' imposed by the Parisian grand ensembles, 32 and in the 
process lampooning the Utopian monumentalism of Le Corbusier 
and pulp-era SF, Disch's eponymous building, architecturally 
'on a par with the pyramids' in its grim uniformity, 33 houses 
3,000 tenants in 812 apartments on 21 floors, not counting 
the homeless 'temps' who shelter on landings and staircases. Its 
elevators have long since ceased to function, isolating the elderly 
and infirm in their cheerless eyries, visited only by MODICUM 
agents and slumming sociology students. Disch's sympathies are 
clearly with the struggling inhabitants of this dreary urban maze, 
whose hard-scrabble lives - prey to myriad 'causeless incurable 
terrors' 34 - are sketched with a meticulousness and intensity quite 


unusual in the genre. Indeed, given its profound absorption in 
the mundane rituals of working-class experience, 334 might be 
called naturalist SF. 

Just as classic naturalist writing embodied a forceful critique 
of capitalist society, 35 so 334 offers a cutting commentary on the 
economic imperatives undergirding the MODICUM regime and 
the social ideologies supporting it. As in Harvey's work, with its 
focus on the 'structured coherence' linking public and private 
sectors of the urban economy, 36 the connections between the 
welfare bureaucracy and the general consumer system of this 
future society are carefully detailed; black markets and other 
informal modes of exchange are tolerated adjuncts to the rationed 
services and regulated expenditure overseen by 'the federal income- 
and-purchase computers'. 37 The characters' 'cheap synthetic 
diet' 38 is supplemented by narcotic palliatives marketed by Pfizer 
and available in popular drinks and chewing gum. Meanwhile, 
television proffers images of unfettered consumption accessible 
only to the lucky suburbanites who have escaped the inner city, yet 
still beguiling to the urban underclass that faithfully consumes its 
messages. Though the high tide of post-war affluence has receded 
from these urban backwaters, the stranded survivors nonetheless 
remain deeply nostalgic for its fantasised bounty. Several characters 
find a catchy jingle from a new Ford commercial dancing at odd 
moments through their heads, although none of them own or 
could afford a car. Similarly, their fondest daydreams are rife 
with images of long-lost consumerist Utopias: 'What is heaven?' 
one ponders. 'Heaven is a supermarket.... Full of everything you 
could ever ask for'. 39 In fact, the Metropolitan Museum - before 
being bombed by a self-styled urban guerrilla - even stages an 
installation recreating a classic A6cP store, replete with aisle upon 
aisle of alluring commodities, all of it 'fake ... no matter how 
realistic it might look, all just imitations'. 40 

On the other hand, despite the convergence of the novel's 
social-critical animus with the insights of Marxist geography, its 
scrutiny of this 'crummy subsidized slum' 41 sometimes suggests 
less a concern for its socio-economic status ('slum') and more 
an outrage at its aesthetic impoverishment ('crummy') and moral 


dependency ('subsidized'). This lurking conservative streak sits 
rather uneasily with 334's more progressive assessments. The 
bombing of the Met is a case in point: ultimately an act of pure 
vandalism, it is driven not by radical ideology but by a senseless 
nihilism inspired by the absolute decadence of the urban surround. 
'The city cried out to be bombed', one character muses. 'The 
amazing fact is that no one ever thought to do it before'. 42 The 
leftist revolutionaries depicted in the story are comical figures, 
alienated dropouts huddling in clandestine cells and maundering 
on about 'why the Revolution, though so long delayed, was the 
next inevitable step'. 43 This is a future that has foreclosed political 
options, permitting only, as an alternative to the vacuousness 
of consumption, meaningless acts of random violence - such 
as the arbitrary murder of an anonymous stranger plotted by 
a band of high school kids. 44 In this society of the spectacle, 'it 
was all consumership, everything they might have done, and 
they were tired, who isn't, of being passive'; even sex has lost 
its appeal, the teenagers bored by the clinically explicit 'hygiene 
demonstrations]' sponsored by the local school board while the 
adults are driven to ever more extreme depravities to fuel their 
jaded appetites, as in a gruesome subplot involving a necrophile 
cult procuring unclaimed corpses from a hospital morgue. 45 

In short, 334 lapses at times into indignant moralising, seeming 
more concerned with imagined ethical and aesthetic deprivations 
than with palpable economic inequities. The ostensible demise of 
artistic sensibility emerges as a particular flashpoint for Disch's 
fury, leading to some uncharitable depictions of working-class 
life: on the one hand, he indicts the capitalist culture industries 
for the ongoing commodification of popular experience; on the 
other, his characters willingly conspire in this debasement and 
revel in the resulting philistinism. One old man, pathologically 
addicted to soap operas, makes a religious ritual of his daily 
viewing, dutifully 'renewing himself at the source'. 46 Another 
bleakly ironic scene involves a primetime special (co-sponsored 
by the omnipresent Pfizer) dramatising the life of Walt Whitman, 
whose sonorous paean to the common life of the city in 'Crossing 


Brooklyn Ferry' (1856) inspires only disdain and confusion in 
his contemporary spectators: 'A dirty old man slobbering after 
teenagers', one character concludes, while another pipes up, '"I 
think it's wonderful ... I think it's very artistic. The colors!" It was 
the utmost she could manage'. 47 This is a society, we are given to 
infer, rapidly descending into barbarism, a verdict cemented by the 
oddest of the subplots, featuring a disaffected MODICUM agent 
who, through pharmaceutical mediation, enjoys a dream existence 
as a fourth-century matron stoically enduring the collapse of 
Roman civilisation at the hands of uncultured hordes. Only the 
nascent christians show any optimism in the face of this epochal 
disaster, expecting any minute 'to see the City of God shoot up 
like an urban renewal project'. 48 

As this metaphor suggests, 334 is sceptical about the possibility 
of redeeming the modern city from its world-historical crisis. 
The disillusioned social worker's attitudes become emblematic of 
the novel's own bad faith: superficially committed to missionary 
reform, she is actually a pagan fatalist plodding wearily through 
the last days of an imploding empire. Her liberal sympathies, fed 
by routine frustrations, leave her l wriggl[ing] in the meshes of an 
indefinite guilt', and she almost welcomes an outburst of nihilist 
violence - as when she races onto the roof to witness the fiery 
destruction of the Met, avidly 'offering herself to these barbarians', 
the alterity of whose experience remains opaque to her until the 
very end. 4 ' That the bomber's hijacked plane eventually crashes 
'into a MODICUM project at the end of Christopher Street', 50 
butchering hapless bystanders, points up the essential emptiness of 
her gesture of pseudo-rebellion. While she is quite obviously being 
mocked here, the novel also apparently endorses aspects of her 
contradictory, self-defeating rage, taking refuge in a Spenglerian 
pessimism regarding the prospect of social transformation and 
consigning its characters to 'the cold facts of a winter existence'. 5 ' 
As Castells observed, even the most well-meaning critiques of 
public housing projects can readily 'feed all the reactionary 
ideologies about the dehumanization of the city', 52 and frankly, 
Disch's social judgements sometimes descend from the Olympian 


gloom of The Decline of the West to the mordant griping of the 
Moynihan Report, blaming the victims of the welfare state for 
their own presumed inadequacies (crass tastes, habitual idleness, 
'federal contract babies'). 51 

Yet if 334 is ultimately less an unswerving arraignment of 
capitalism than a problematic critique of that 'great octopus, 
Bureaucracy' 5 ' 1 - complete with all the pitfalls one might expect 
in such an enterprise, including a tendency to focus on societal 
symptoms rather than the economic disease - it is also, unques- 
tionably, the most compelling treatment of urban crisis in the 
New Wave canon, precisely because of the suggestiveness of its 
underlying contradictions. Indeed, these contradictions deserve 
to be read dialectically, as proof of the unavoidably divided 
nature of social experience under capitalism. In particular, the 
MODICUM system illustrates the abiding tension between 
capital's wealth-generating capacity and its perennially unequal 
distribution of resources: it is an example of what Harvey calls 
an institution 'geared to the maintenance of scarcity'. 55 Thus, the 
social 'barbarism' the novel worries over is actually an inescapable 
product of the imperatives of capitalist 'civilization' itself, and the 
334 building is a monument to this paradox: a triumph of civic 
engineering designed to satisfy fundamental needs, it is also a 
physical and moral wasteland dismally warehousing a redundant 
population. 'Human dignity is more than a zipcode number', 
observes one character, 'or so they say'. 5 * 

As befits its dialectical complexity, 334 encompasses the 
two main trends characterising the New Wave urban dystopia: 
evocations of sweeping technocratic monumentalism, such as 
Felix Gottschalk's Growing Up in Tier 3000 (1975) or Robert 
Silverberg's The World Inside (1971), and of irremediable 
decadence and breakdown, such as Charles Piatt's Twilight 
of the City (1977) or Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren (1975). 57 
Silverberg, for example, depicts vast megalopoli (called 'urbmons', 
for urban monads) in a hypertrophic, over-regimented future 
where capitalism has cemented its absolute mastery over the built 
environment. 58 Piatt, by contrast, shows the waning of capital's 


grasp as cities catastrophically contract and fail, forcing citizens 
into beleaguered enclaves squabbling over diminishing resources 
and the shattered remnants of public authority. In Dhalgren, the 
collapse is already complete, with the world-weary city of Bellona 
offering a romantically ruined shelter for a kaleidoscopic array 
of bohemian subcultures. Each of these novels has its specific 
strengths - with Delany's being a sterling example of how the 
politics of the New Wave intersected with the ethos of the youth 
counterculture - but only 334 grasps the full force of capitalist 
urbanism, in which development and decay, progress and poverty 
are not contradictions but mutually constitutive realities. 

Of course, even 334 could not predict the forthcoming neoliberal 
regime, which would respond to the historical crisis of the modern 
city by radically revising the socio-economic terrain. It was not 
until the advent of cyberpunk in the 1980s that the contours of 
the new urban landscape, with its innovative collusions between 
private power and public space, began to come into sharper focus. 
William Gibson's Virtual Light (1993), for example, offers a hard- 
bitten take on regnant neoliberalism, with its privatised police 
forces patrolling affluent gated communities while the underclass 
flounders amid the wreckage of a shredded welfare state. As Roger 
Burrows points out, cyberpunk SF was in explicit and ongoing 
conversation with Marxist geography, Gibson's fiction being linked 
with Mike Davis' potent meditations on the postmodern cityscape 
in 'a highly recursive relationship' of cognitive mapping. 5 ' Blade 
Runner (Scott, 1982) likely supplied a powerful impetus for this 
linkage, providing for contemporary viewers an image of the city 
as influential as Lang's Metropolis had been six decades before. 60 
But it was the urban dystopias of the 1970s, with their trenchant 
delineation of the spatial connections between capitalist economy 
and everyday metropolitan life, that set the tone for subsequent 
treatments. In this regard, Harvey provides a fitting summary 
of the essential insight of New Wave SF: 'The built environment 
requires collective management and control, and it is therefore 
almost certain to be a primary field of struggle between capital 
and labor over what is good for accumulation and what is good 
for people'. 61 



1. William Gibson, 'The Gernsback Continuum', in Burning Chrome 
(New York: Arbor House, 1986), pp. 34, 36, 30, 37. Gibson's 
fictional Airstream Futuropolis spawned a host of real-world 
imitators, including Joseph J. Corn and Brian Horrigan's Yesterday's 
Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future (Baltimore: Johns 
Hopkins University Press, 1984), Eric and Jonathan Dregni's Follies 
of Science: 20th Century Visions of Our Fantastic Future (Denver: 
Speck Press, 2006), and Daniel H. Wilson and Richard Home's 
Where's My ]etpack?: A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future 
That Never Arrived (New York: Bloomsbury, 2007). For an analysis 
of this phenomenon, see Elizabeth Guffey, Retro: The Culture of 
Revival (London: Reaktion, 2006). 

2. Gibson, 'Gernsback Continuum', p. 38. 

3. Andrew Ross, Strange Weather: Culture, Science and Technology in 
the Age of Limits (New York: Verso, 1991), p. 102. 

4. Ibid., p. 118. 

5. Ibid., p. 131. 

6. Gibson, 'Gernsback Continuum', p. 38. 

7. The English translation of Le Corbusier's Urbanisme (1925) was 
called The City of To-Morrow. 

8. See Hugo Gernsback, Ralph 124C 41 + (Lincoln: University of 
Nebraska Press, 2000), pp. 93-102. 

9. For a critique of the failure of Soviet constructivism, see Manfredo 
Tafuri, The Sphere and the Labyrinth: Avant-Gardes and Architecture 
from Piranesi to the 1 970s, transl. Pellegrino d'Acierno and Robert 
Connolly (Cambridge: MIT, 1990), pp. 149-70. 

10. Gibson, 'Gernsback Continuum', p. 31. 

11. The foundational text of the Garden City movement was Ebenezer 
Howard's To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898). On 
the conflict between his collectivist vision and capitalist realities, see 
Stanley Buder, Visionaries and Planners: The Garden City Movement 
and the Modern Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 
1990). For comparative discussions of Howard and Le Corbusier, see 
Robert Fishman, Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century: Ebenezer 
Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier (Cambridge: MIT Press, 
1982), and David Pinder, Visions of the City: Utopianism, Power 
and Politics in Twentieth-Century Urbanism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh 
University Press, 2005). 

12. Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (New York: 
International, 1963), p. 75. 

13. Andy Merrifield, Metromarxism: A Marxist Tale of the City (New 
York: Routledge, 2002), p. 23. 


14. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist 
Party, in David Fernbach, ed., The Revolutions of 1848: Karl Marx, 
Political Writings, Volume 1 (New York: Vintage, 1974), p. 71. 

15. Walter Benjamin, 'Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century', in 
Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, transl. 
Edmund Jephcott (New York: Schocken, 1986), p. 152. 

16. Ibid., pp. 156, 153. 

17. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit: Black &C Red, 1983), 
paragraphs 2, 20. 

18. Simon Sadler, The Situationist City (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998), 
p. 56. 

19. An important inspiration for this new trend in Marxist theory was 
Henri Lefebvre. On his influence on Castells and Harvey, see Ira 
Katznelson, Marxism and the City (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), 
pp. 92-140. For a critique of Marxist geography, see Kian Tajbakhsh, 
The Promise of the City: Space, Identity, and Politics in Contemporary 
Social Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001 ). 

20. The convergence between Marxist geography and the New Wave was 
quite direct in the case of Harvey, who published an essay on 'The 
Languages of Science' in New Worlds in 1 967 while a geography 
lecturer at the University of Bristol. 

21. See Roger E. Alcalay and David Mermelstein, eds, The Fiscal Crisis of 
American Cities: Essays on the Political Economy of Urban America 
with Special Reference to New York (New York: Vintage, 1977), 
and William K. Tabb, The Long Default: New York City and the 
Urban Fiscal Crisis (New York: Monthly Review, 1982). 

22. Manuel Castells, The Urban Question: A Marxist Approach, transl. 
Alan Sheridan (Cambridge: MIT, 1977), pp. 460-1. 

23. David Harvey, 'The Urban Process Under Capitalism: A Framework 
for Analysis', The Urbanization of Capital: Studies in the History 
and Theory of Capitalist Urbanization (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins 
University Press, 1985), p. 27. 

24. David Harvey, Social Justice and the City (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins 
University Press, 1973), pp. 134-5. Harvey's discussion of ghetto 
formation builds directly upon Engels' 'The Housing Question'. 

25. On tenants' activism in the context of debates over housing priorities 
(focusing on Paris in the 1960s), see Manuel Castells, 'Urban Renewal 
and Social Conflict', in City, Class and Power, transl. Elizabeth Lebas 
(New York: St Martin's, 1978), pp. 93-125. 

26. See David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: 
Oxford University Press, 2005), and Jason Hackworth, The 
Neoliberal City: Governance, Ideology, and Development in 
American Urbanism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006). 


27. Brian W. Aldiss with David Wingrove, Trillion Year Spree: The 
History of Science Fiction (New York: Avon, 1988), p. 291. 

28. Thomas M. Disch, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How 
Science Fiction Conquered the World (New York: Free Press, 1998), 
pp. 110-11. 

29. On Camp Concentration's critique of militarism, see Thomas 
L. Wymer, 'Naturalism, Aestheticism and Beyond: Tradition 
and Innovation in the Work of Thomas M. Disch', in Thomas 
D. Clareson and Thomas L. Wymer, eds, Voices for the Future, 
Volume Three (Bowling Green: Bowling Green University Popular 
Press, 1984), pp. 186-219. On The Genocides as a condemnation 
of 'ecological imperialism', see Rob Latham, 'Biotic Invasions: 
Ecological Imperialism in New Wave Science Fiction', Yearbook of 
English Studies 37: 2 (2007), pp. 103-19. 

30. Thomas M. Disch, 334 (New York: Avon, 1974), p. 15. 

31. Ibid., p. 107. 

32. Manuel Castells, The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural 
Theory of Urban Social Movements (Berkeley: University of 
California Press, 1983), p. 76. 

33. Disch, 334, p. 15. 

34. Ibid., p. 127. 

35. See Walter Benn Michaels, The Gold Standard and the Logic of 
Naturalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988). 

36. Harvey, Urbanization of Capital, pp. 139-44. 

37. Disch, 334, p. 48. 

38. Ibid., p. 95. 

39. Ibid., p. 243. 

40. Ibid., p. 171. 

41. Ibid., p. 17. 

42. Ibid., p. 112. 

43. Ibid., p. 176. 

44. This subplot animates 334's most famous section, 'Angouleme', 
minutely deconstructed in Samuel R. Delany, The American Shore 
(Elizabethtown: Dragon Press, 1978). 

45. Disch, 334, pp. 157, 124. 

46. Ibid., p. 61. 

47. Ibid., p. 190. 

48. Ibid., p. 109. 

49. Ibid., p. 113. 

50. Ibid., p. 116. 

51. Ibid., p. 98. Spengler's The Decline of the West (1918) is directly 
quoted here in the context of the MODICUM agent's mournful 
pondering of the fate of empires. For an analysis of decadent cities 


in SF, see Tom Henighan, 'The Cyclopean City: A Fantasy Image of 
Decadence', in Extrapolation 35: 1 (Spring 1994), pp. 68-76. 

52. Castells, Urban Question, p. 162. 

53. Disch, 334, p. 205. The Moynihan Report- New York Senator Daniel 
Patrick Moynihan's The Negro Family: The Case for National Action 
- was released in 1 965, two years before Disch began publishing 
the stories eventually gathered into 334. Its central thesis - that 
the African-American family suffered from a 'tangle of pathology', 
exacerbated by urban poverty but still largely self-inflicted - was 
hugely controversial at the time. See Lee Rainwater and William L. 
Yancey, eds, The Moynihan Report and the Politics of Controversy 
(Cambridge: MIT, 1967). Its underlying views continue to feed into 
debates about racial politics and social justice. See S. Craig Watkins, 
Representing: Hip Hop Culture and the Production of Black Cinema 
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), pp. 218-26. 334\ 
initial episode - 'The Death of Socrates', originally published as 
'Problems of Creativeness' in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science 
Fiction in 1967 - is the one most deeply engaged with racial issues, 
reproaching MODICUM'S social credits system as a new eugenics 
programme that revives the worst excesses of scientific racism, but 
also showing how this system can nonetheless be gamed by ambitious 
blacks who, exploiting the so-called 'Jim Crow Compromise' (Disch, 
334, p. 21), amass bonus points through dubious self-improvement 
strategies. The complex racial politics of 334 are beyond the scope 
of this essay; suffice to say that I believe Disch manages to inoculate 
himself against a possible imputation of racism by broadening 
his critique of the putative 'tangle of pathology' into a corrosive 
assessment - at once progressive and reactionary - of urban working- 
class culture as a whole. The Hansens, the family that dominates 
the novel, are predominantly white but no less socio-economically 
dysfunctional for that. In other words, for Disch, social pathology 
is primarily a result of the experience of poverty and its potential 
amelioration by the state, rather than a legacy of racial segregation 
and its historical remedies, and thus his book responds to a longer 
tradition of poverty programmes in the US than the Moynihan 
Report engages. On that tradition, see Alice O'Connor, Poverty 
Knowledge: Social Science, Social Policy, and the Poor in Twentieth- 
Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001). 

54. Disch, 334, p. 253. 

55. Harvey, Social Justice, p. 139. 

56. Disch, 334, p. 117. 

57. On representations of the city in SF more generally, see Eric S. 
Rabkin, 'The Unconscious City', in George E. Slusser and Eric S. 


Rabkin, eds, Hard Science Fiction (Carbondale: Southern Illinois 
University Press, 1986), pp. 24—44; Robert Sheckley, Futuropolis: 
Impossible Cities of Science Fiction and Fantasy (New York: A&W 
Visual Library, 1978); and Gary K. Wolfe, The Known and the 
Unknown: The Iconography of Science Fiction (Kent: Kent State 
University Press, 1979), pp. 86-124. Cf. Richard Lehan, The City in 
Literature: An Intellectual and Cultural History (Berkeley: University 
of California Press, 1998), which links early Utopian and proto-SF 
visions with mainstream literary depictions. 

58. Silverberg extrapolates the theories of Italian architect Paolo Soleri, 
in particular his vision of giant city-sized structures called arcologies 
(see On Silverberg's 
novel, see Thomas P. Dunn and Richard D. Erlich. 'The Mechanical 
Hive: Urbmon 116 as the Villain-Hero of Silverberg's The World 
Inside', Extrapolation 21: 4 (Winter 1980), pp. 338-47. 

59. Roger Burrows, 'Virtual Culture, Urban Social Polarisation and 
Social Science Fiction', in Brian D. Loader, ed., Politics, Technology 
and Global Restructuring (New York: Routledge, 1997), p. 39. 

60. On Blade Runner in relation to a cinematic tradition of urban 
dystopias, see the essays in the 'City Spaces' section of Annette 
Kuhn, ed., Alien Zone II: The Spaces of Science Fiction Cinema 
(New York: Verso, 1999), pp. 75-143. 

61. David Harvey, Consciousness and the Urban Experience: Studies in 
the History and Theory of Capitalist Urbanization (Baltimore: Johns 
Hopkins University Press, 1985), p. 47. 



Darren Jorgensen 

Amid the tumult of May 1968, on the new Nanterre campus in 
Paris, intellectuals were pelted with rotten food, shouted down 
during lectures and subjected to student nudity. The problem that 
protestors had with academics was simply that - in the words of 
a slogan scrawled on blackboards - their 'structures don't march 
in the streets'. The 1960s brought the question of praxis to the 
fore, as the streets and campuses of Paris and the US were filled 
with the bodies of dissent. Yet these protests did not succeed in 
overthrowing the French state, or even ending the American war 
in Vietnam. Instead, they brought about the institutionalisation 
of a New Left in western universities. The failures of the 1960s 
uprisings were the condition by which Marxist intellectuals found 
themselves employed by the state capitalism that they wanted 
to overthrow. SF studies was a part of this New Left in North 
American universities, boosted by a new generation of literary 
scholars who wanted to interrogate the ideologies of bourgeois and 
patriarchal literatures. The popular genre of SF not only presented 
an alternative to the high modern literature that had until then 
been institutionally canonised, but perhaps also even offered a 
critical, historically engaged mode of cultural production. 

The most influential Marxist of this generation of American 
literary scholars was Fredric Jameson, who privileged SF by arguing 
that it 'is in its very nature a symbolic meditation on history itself, 



comparable in its emergence as a new genre to the birth of the 
historical novel around the time of the French revolution'. 1 In 
this essay and others from the early 1970s, Jameson argues not 
only for the historical interpretation of SF, but also for the idea 
that SF is an historically self-conscious genre. Yet historicism 
was not the only version of Marxism at work in the 1960s and 
1970s, and this understanding of the genre was conceived in an 
ongoing debate with the anti-historicist, scientific Marxism that 
took its inspiration from the writings of Louis Althusser. The 
institutionalisation of the former strand of Marxism in western 
universities came at the price of the latter, which challenges the 
logic of historicism and remains a viable critical practice. This 
essay will turn to Althusser in order to propose another road for 
a Marxist thinking of SF. 

In his early essays on SF, Jameson takes as his departure the 
notion that the genre is best understood historically because 
it exhibits a self-consciousness about history. However, his 
assumption that SF is more historical than other genres contains 
a contradiction: if history determines genre, no one genre should 
be more historical than any other. Jameson defers to history as 
the ground of his analysis while discursively constructing this 
history, relying on texts to construct that which is also a material 
horizon for the production of meaning. As John Frow puts it, 
this 'is surely a case of having one's referent and eating it too'. 2 
This contradiction can also be found in Darko Suvin's influential 
Marxist theorisation of SF that proclaims the historical quality 
of the genre in its ability to illuminate its 'author's empirical 
environment'. 3 Again, this historicist circularity wants to claim 
agency for a genre that speaks of its own conditions of production. 
The argument returns to the normative judgements that literary 
studies has traditionally made about the value of some texts 
over others, so that, for instance, Suvin can conclude that 'all 
subsequent significant SF can be said to have sprung from Wells's 
Time Machine', a novel that exhibits those historically reflexive 
features of the genre that Suvin has already defined.'' In two 
special issues of Science Fiction Studies published in 1975, Suvin 
canonised the work of Philip K. Dick and Ursula K. Le Guin on 


the same grounds. In his capacity as co-founding editor of this 
North American journal, Suvin claimed that 

Both of these leading American SF writers of the last 15 years write out of 
and react against historically the same human - psychological and socio- 
political - situation: the experience of the terrible pressures of alienation, 
isolation, and fragmentation pervading the neo-capitalist society of the 
world of the mid-20th century. 5 

In doing so, Suvin set the tone for a raft of interpretations of 
Dick in particular as a privileged commentator upon history - a 
position afforded by the historical self-consciousness assumed 
for SF. 

Jameson's essays in these special issues help to illuminate some 
of the consequences of historicism for the thinking of SF. They put 
to work the historicist methodology that Jameson first outlined 
in 'Metacommentary' (1971), and developed most extensively a 
decade later in The Political Unconscious (1981), 6 arguing for 
the dialectical supremacy of a metacommentary that preserves 
the received, common-sense meaning of a text, but also subjects 
it to a greater, Hegelian inversion of this meaning within a 
historical totality. For example, Jameson's essay on Dick's Dr 
Bloodntoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb (1965), 
turns the novel's modernist tendencies into a meditation upon the 
atomic bomb. 7 What is at first understood to be experimentation 
within genre fiction - playing with generic limits for literary effect 
- becomes a consideration of the fragmentations of history itself. 
Thus the meaning of literary modernism is both preserved and 
succeeded by a metacommentary that is interested in the historical 
conditions that produce it. In this essay, Jameson demonstrates his 
methodology while arguing against competing theories of literary 
study, one of which is Althusser's scientific version of Marxism. 
As an American scholar of French studies, Jameson was well 
aware of the debates raging over the work of Althusser in France 
and the UK. Although Jameson would not stage a comprehensive 
argument against Althusser until The Political Unconsious, he 
rehearses it in this essay. Adapting the semiotic square of A.J. 
Greimas and F. Rastier, 8 Jameson turns its contraries into Hegelian 


contradictions, shifting from a structuralist method of reading to 
a dialectical one. 9 

Yet it is not this methodological shift that most betrays the 
shadow of Althusser in the essay on Dick. Instead, it is the subject 
of the contradictions themselves. The first, between theory and 
praxis, underpins Althusser's deconstruction of historicism in his 
argument for a scientific Marxism that is better able to produce 
revolutionary consciousness. For Althusser, historicism is neither 
scientific nor revolutionary because it is ideologically fixated, 
trapped by its own discovery of historical content in subjects that it 
had already determined to be historical. 10 The second contradiction 
that Jameson identifies in Dr Bloodtnoney is between science and 
language. This encodes the disputes that follow from Althusser's 
dismissal of Marx's earlier, humanistic writings and his reading of 
Capital as proposing an objective science that is consequent upon 
capitalism, but independent of it." 

Jameson takes his contention that Dick favours language 
over science even further in his contribution to the Science 
Fiction Studies special issue on Le Guin, arguing that science is 
synonymous with capitalism itself. 12 His reading of Le Guin's The 
Left Hand of Darkness (1969) imagines a science extricated from 
capitalism, but can only do so by turning to a novel that features 
a human species with a completely different biological system 
- the Gethenians, who lack sexual desire for most of the year. 
While their world is stable, with none of the psychic pathologies 
that torment our own society, it has also not undergone an 
industrial revolution, so Gethenian science develops at a medieval 
pace. Consequently, Jameson is able to identify the desire for 
science with the desire of capitalism, conflating one with the 
other. This is not the science that Althusser advocates, which has 
developed alongside capitalism but is not a part of it, and which 
remains, in spite of capitalism, an objective and free mode of 

But Jameson uses Althusser's own terminology to read Dick's 
Dr Bloodmoney. Althusser's theorisation of ideology is his most 
enduring contribution to Marxist literary studies, and Jameson 
uses it to demonstrate that, between science and language, Dick s 


novel concludes from a position that supports language and 
the artist. This is a common enough judgement in subsequent 
studies of Dick, which frequently point to his humanism, but 
Jameson's argument is trapped in the circularity that haunts his 
historicist definition of SF as a historically conscious genre. To 
say that Dick's novel is a 'defense on the part of the artist, and 
an idealistic overemphasis on language and art in the place of 
political action' 13 is of little consequence when Dick is, after 
all, a producer of language and art. Indeed, such a conclusion 
remains bound by the mutual recognition structures that produce 
ideology, entailing an interpretation that sets out 'to recognise 
itself in an artificial problem manufactured to serve it both as 
a theoretical mirror and as a practical justification'. 14 Ideology 
functions in the service of whatever competing discourse enlists 
it; but, according to Althusser, the functionality goes two ways, 
producing both the object of criticism and the criticism itself. 
This is what Althusser means when he argues that ideology has 
a conditional autonomy, since its actual message, whatever side 
it takes amid competing political ideas, is dependent upon this 
reflective, repetitive structure. Here lies the fundamental difference 
between Jameson and Althusser: while Jameson claims everything 
is ideological, 15 Althusser identifies a science that eludes ideology, 
and in doing so challenges the premise of mediation that makes 
Marxist historiography possible. Ultimately the content of 
ideological production is not as significant for Althusser as the 
fact of ideological production itself. 

For some Marxist commentators who were part of the activism 
and revolutionary politics of the 1960s, Jameson's work reflects 
a communism in desperate straits. His attempt to bring together 
contradictory discourses was the equivalent of a popular front 
in critical theory 16 that compromised the revolutionary modes 
of thought that were committed to an immediate and undiluted 
overthrow of capitalism. In James Iffland's terms, the problem 
with Jameson's Marxism is that it comes to be 'recognized as 
something else', something that is not revolutionary Marxism. 17 
The principal site of revolutionary struggle, the class war and 
its praxis, is subsumed by matters of aesthetics. As Cornel West 


argues, Jameson's adoption of formalist strategies was just 
'breathing life' back into old, bourgeois texts. 18 West condemns 
Jameson's attraction to the aesthetics of capitalism, even though 
Jameson wants to subsume this attraction to a greater, historical 
logic. As actual, lived communism recedes into the past, it is 
tempting to read this shift from revolution to art as part of a 
retreat from real-world politics. 19 Like the ambivalence of art 
itself towards politics, Jameson's metacommentary forges no new 
paths for revolutionary action. 20 It 'either rests upon no specifiable 
historical forces potentially capable of actualizing it or upon the 
notion that every conceivable historical force embodies it', and 
Marxism comes to have 'little or no political consequences', 
no praxis to accompany its theory. 21 As Althusser recognised, 
ideological analysis alone is not enough to produce revolution. 

It is from the inadequacies of this historicist approach that, we 
can turn to alternative methodologies for thinking about SF. The 
most concise critique that Althusser makes of historiography is its 
tendency to assume a transparent mediation between the structure 
of capitalism and the superstructure of culture, as if one would 
imply the other 22 - as if the institutions responsible for managing 
genre, such as the university, are not a part of the historical logic 
of expression, in which structural contradictions are represented 
by cultural reproduction. Historicism repeats the ideologies of 
these institutions by not reflecting upon them. Thus we must turn 
to examples of the relationship between texts and the world that 
negotiate such institutions differently. 

My first example is anecdotal. In an interview, Henri Lefebvre 
mentions, years after the event, that he discussed a translation 
of Clifford Simak's City (1952) with the situationists. 23 This SF 
novel imagines a machine-maintained world in which life has been 
freed by technology to explore its potentiality. The irony of the 
novel, and part of Lefebvre's interest in it, lies in the fact that it is 
not human life that achieves Utopia. Humans, unable to cope with 
a world without work, have died out, and intelligent dogs have 
inherited the Earth. The novel is a revolutionary one because, unlike 
Dick, Simak imagines a world that lies beyond the sentimentality 
of humanism, a world that has been thoroughly transformed at the 


level of the species. Its dialectic takes place between a species and 
the technology that enables its members to run their lives, in an 
exploration of post-revolutionary life. The novel was an inspiration 
for Lefebvre's work on the everyday, as well as for the anti- 
intellectual situationists themselves. Like Simak, the situationists 
imagined a world without the contradictions brought about by 
labour, and acted and published texts with a view to breaking out 
of these contradictions. 24 Thus SF has a relation to revolutionary 
praxis, even if the terms of this relationship are obscure. There is no 
causal relation between situationist praxis and City, and yet the two 
resonate with each other. City's description of a posthuman Utopia 
run by machines and the actions of the situationists both realise a 
world without work. Thus the situationists allow us to read City 
literally, rather than metaphorically, as a realisation of that liberated 
consciousness that lies beyond capitalism. In playing a part in the 
situationist milieu, in informing the situationist experiments for re- 
imagining the city, Simak's City was part of a different continuum by 
which to think through the relationship of revolution to SF. This is 
a relationship of reciprocal exchange between text and revolution, 
as a novel informs a revolution that, in turn, enables a reading of 
the novel as revolutionary possibility. It is to such lived relations 
that SF scholars might turn for encouragement. 

Such readings of SF novels on the level of the actual have been 
little explored by the left, but have long been adapted by right- 
wing novelists and governments. For example, SF author Gregory 
Benford was once employed to imagine a monument to signal the 
deadly dangers of a nuclear waste dump for at least 10,000 years; 
more infamously, a group of SF writers including Larry Niven, 
Jerry Pournelle and Greg Bear formed the Citizen Advisory Panel 
on National Space Policy, whose 1984 report, Mutual Assured 
Survival (1984), argued for the militarisation of space, and 
persuaded President Reagan to develop the Strategic Defense 
Initiative - the 'Star Wars' programme. 25 These writers effortlessly 
shifted from the fictional to the actual. Could left-wing SF writers 
also be taken seriously, and consulted on the direction of the world? 
One imagines Kim Stanley Robinson, author of Red Mars (1996), 
advising on the upcoming American Mars mission, or Greg Egan, 


author of Quarantine (1992), employed to plan out a New Hong 
Kong in remote Northern Australia. To do so, however, requires a 
shift in leftist thinking from understanding SF as a coded expression 
of history to seeing it as an actualisation of history. 

My second example suggests a very different relation between 
text and revolution. It comes from Lefebvre's student, Daniel 
Cohn-Bendit. In Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative 
(1968), he is scathing in his criticism of the French Communist 
Party's obstruction of the May 1 968 uprising by refusing to support 
street action, extend strikes or assist in workplace occupations. 
The tragic outcome was a police hunt through the streets of Paris, 
with students who did not find shelter in sympathetic homes being 
severely beaten. Cohn-Bendit's bitterness over this develops into 
a critique of party-based Marxism on the ground, from the point 
of view of a revolutionary situation. He turns to Leon Trotsky 
to illustrate the way that, even in the first years of the Russian 
revolution, communists put the interests of the party over those 
of the workers themselves. When a counter-revolutionary uprising 
in Petrograd in 1921 demanded that the local Soviet committees 
be sacked and replaced with new Soviets, the party ordered that 
the rebels be attacked, with Trotsky ordering soldiers 'to shoot 
the Kronstadt "rebels" down like partridges'. 26 Presuming to lead 
rather than follow the masses, the party sought to control and 
subvert a revolution that was taking place from below. In this, they 
exceeded the function of militant revolutionaries, who should, 
according to Cohn-Bendit, not so much direct or even educate 
the masses as 'express their common aspirations' 27 and clarify the 
nature of the struggle back to the revolution. 28 Cohn-Bendit, who 
represented the student movement during the first two weeks in 
May, is careful to define himself as an accidental spokesperson 
for the movement, as nothing more than 'a plagiarist when it 
comes to the preaching of revolutionary theory and practice'. 29 
He disavows the idea that theory has an active role in revolution, 
describing it instead as the echo of a greater, lived discourse. 30 
The revolutionary text, or the text as revolutionary, gestures to 
this excess of possibilities that lie outside of it, rather than to 
the interiority of its own expressive agency. Cohn-Bendit tied his 


book to these possibilities, declaring that the proceeds from its sale 
would be used to finance more Molotov cocktails, thus offsetting its 
place in the world of commercial publishing with its material role in 
revolution" and bringing into question the material and institutional 
relations of contemporary Marxist theory to revolution. 

For literary theorist Pierre Macherey, a student of Althusser's, 
the difference between historicism and revolutionary criticism lies 
in the difference between representation and figuration. While 
ideology springs from the former, a novel is always more than its 
ideological content, slipping into figurations that do not always 
express ideology. This bulk of literary material in a novel makes 
up a string of differential images, and constitutes the identity of 
fiction that is also a non-identity because it remains insensible 
to thought. The writer recognises ideology as an obstacle to the 
real project of fiction, and so 'the book begins to walk alone, to 
move in an unforeseen direction' so as to elude ideology. 32 Inter- 
pretation misses this crucial play of fiction that assumes a life of 
its own. Instead, figuration thinks the fact of this life, turning 
criticism into an exchange between fictions and the world they 
inhabit, in a series of shared images. This is a philosophy of 
literature because it turns to the conditions by which fiction is 
produced as fiction, to that necessity by which it becomes itself. 
It is a Marxist philosophy of literature because it is materialist, 
not differentiating between fiction and the world. Macherey chose 
Jules Verne to illustrate his position because Verne was immersed 
in the possibilities of his time, in a writing project that wanted to 
travel to the far reaches of the planet, to the centre of the Earth, to 
the moon. His exploration of the reaches of the actual constitutes 
a writing that is bound to the world, as well as positioning the 
author as a scientist who investigates possibilities. 

Althusser himself models an intellectual practice that is 
revolutionary, although today the memory of his work is obscured 
by biographical detail. To call for a return to Althusser is to counter 
a generation for whom this communist intellectual definitively lost 
battles that were both personal and political. It is necessary to 
distinguish the younger, scientific Althusser from an older man who 
was traumatised by domestic and political events, just as Althusser 


himself differentiated between a younger and an older, scientific 
Marx. 33 In the 1960s, Althusser was the very model of the organic 
intellectual, his commitment to the French Communist Party 
determining his modes and subjects of analysis. He set out to redress 
what he saw as dogmatic adaptations of Hegel that had described 
historical reason within Marx's thought. His writing sought to 
foster a sense of the present as an historical opportunity, to create 
in his reader a sort of revolutionary consciousness. Yet Althusser 
did not partake in the revolution of his time and place, famously 
watching May 1968 from his window, as his declared commitment 
to a communist revolution was in the last instance determined by 
his commitment to the party. In both theory and practice, he did 
not want to reproduce the circularities of historicism, circularities 
that the May 1968 movement was condemned to reproduce. He 
drew on the lessons of the Russian revolution to argue that a 
successful revolution is not determined by history, but is in fact 
overdetermined, as its multiple causes tip into a revolutionary 
consciousness that, crucially, is also not determined by these 
causes. 34 Althusser describes a consciousness of the historical 
moment that exceeds its own conditions. He turns this argument 
to the contemporary situation, to any contemporary situation, 
by asking: What historical moment is not overdetermined? In 
what situations are the contradictions of capitalism not more 
or less in evidence? To be committed to actualising revolution 
is to see these contradictions everywhere, to realise that there 
is no better moment for revolutionary action than the present. 
Revolutionary consciousness is not an historical consciousness, 
but this historical action of revolution. In arguing against the 
significance of historicism within Marxism, Althusser turns 
a consciousness of history into a consciousness that is critical 
of this historical consciousness. Historicism is for Althusser an 
ideology because it reproduces itself, rather than overdetermining 
its own conditions of production in order to create revolution. He 
sought to demonstrate that the consciousness of history is not the 
consciousness of revolution by creating a critique that is proximate 
to revolutionary action. It is not historical consciousness, but the 
excess of this consciousness that is the condition for a revolution's 


actualisation. Althusser wanted to think past the strictures of 
ideology, to traverse the mirror structures of ideological production 
so as to arrive at this revolutionary consciousness. The play of 
ideology is, after all, merely the play of the superstructure, and 
what is more important is the ultimately determining structure 
of capitalism. 

Although May 1968 is generally counted among Althusser's 
personal and political failures, Louis Marin's Utopiques (1973) 
contends that the events had a very Althusserian quality of 
exceeding historical causality. However, he argues, this was also 
the reason for the revolution's failure, because revolutionaries 
found themselves beyond their own understanding of what they 
were doing. Marin considers revolution to be beyond representa- 
tion, and a fundamental problem for the intellectual whose task is 
to represent it. This is the same problem that Althusser set himself 
in trying to address revolution itself, rather than its history. Marin 
writes of May 1968: 

For a few weeks historical time was suspended, alt institutions and taws were 
again challenged in and by discourse, and networks of communication were 
opened among those immersed in one way or another in the experience. 
May 1968 was not only a liberating explosion and an extratemporal 
moment of overthrow; it was also the seizure of every opportunity to speak. 
Subjects and objects were exchanged so that suddenly discourse seemed 
to conjure up its referent. It appeared to make manifest, through its verbal 
expression and by its images, desires. Both roaming in reality and fixated 
in words, these desires could not have been accomplished by discourse 
itself. Rather, it brought those who spoke to such a point of excess that 
they could do nothing but misjudge the discourse that animated them. 
They consequently found themselves beyond themselves, beyond what 
they thought or believed." 

Marin describes the 'clarity of perception' that came with the 
event, a clarity that dissolved the abstract and uneven relations 
between representation and desire. 36 These are 'breakaway 
experiences' during which anything can happen. 37 They are 
beyond ordinary experience, beyond judgement, incomparable 
to anything else. They constitute, in Althusser's terms, the 


consciousness of revolution itself, the resolution of alienation in 
capitalism with a spontaneity lived in the present moment. Yet 
in Marin's description, this lived revolution is incommensurable 
with itself. The revolution goes beyond itself, or at least beyond 
the most basic mechanisms of representation. It encounters its 
own non-identity, in a shift of the meaning of revolution as it is 
constituted in non-revolutionary moments of being. It brings into 
being that which cannot be recognised outside itself, that which 
is a part of history, but is more fundamentally not a part of this 
history. Revolution is, within itself, an absolute difference. 

The problem with this encounter with absolute difference was 
that it led only to a repetition of what had come before, to a 
return of what Jacques Lacan called the discourse of the Master. 
In his May 1968 seminar, on the radicalised Nanterre campus 
itself, Lacan predicted that this Master would return to occupy 
the place of power because this law is embedded structurally in 
language. 38 The noisy interruptions audible on the recording of 
this seminar testify to student discontent with his prognostica- 
tions, but the consequences for the student revolutionaries proved 
to be far more dire than Lacan described: a new Master did not 
replace the old, but rather the old retained power, foreclosing the 
promise of a new way of living and creating the illusion of an 
infallible system of state and economic power. This failure to effect 
change in 1968 has marked the conceptualisation of revolution for 
Western Marxism ever since, and it is to this failure that SF studies 
owes its place in university institutions. The New Left gained 
intellectual credibility in the west at the cost of revolutionary 
change. It is not surprising, then, that the methodologies of this 
New Left reproduce a thinking of failure. 

In 2006, the critical theory journal Symploke devoted a special 
issue to 'increasing levels of intellectual discouragement', yet such 
discouragement was already written into the historicist project 
that has achieved such institutional success since the 1960s. 19 
In one contribution, David R. Shumway argues that today's 
intellectuals define themselves by inactivity, by their irrelevance 
to actual events. 40 This has been the case for Marxist intellectuals 
as well, whose particular discouragement lies in revolutions that 


failed to actualise in the west, and yet upon which Marxist critique 
is based. For Western Marxists, this revolution might just as well 
be SF, belonging as it does to the imagination of some speculative 
future. Yet, as we have seen, Althusser's critique of historicism 
points to a consciousness of the revolutionary possibilities of 
reading that exceeds this historicist ideology. 

It is necessary, then, to turn away from a historicism which is 
all too caught up in a simple model of expressivity to produce 
revolutionary consciousness. Althusser's anti-humanist and 
anti-historicist study of Marx can help us to overcome the 
presumptions of the expressivity that has long informed bourgeois 
studies of literature, and to rethink SF. In Reading Capital (1970), 
Althusser turns to the institutional conditions for literary studies 
and to the question of value in professional scholarship that 
has developed alongside capitalism. 41 The relative autonomy of 
literary studies is caught up with this systemic determination of 
value, a determination that is implied in the ideological reifications 
of capitalism. Marxism's own interventions into literary studies 
are also situated amid these ideological reifications, as they decode 
the ideological representations that determine the significance 
of a novel, or theorise the generic system that determines the 
valuation of literature. An Althusserian method proposes instead 
to investigate the experimental conditions by which such represen- 
tations come about. It wants to reproduce the consciousness by 
which the absolute difference of a novel's experience is created, a 
consciousness that makes a novel contemporary with the reader's 
own consciousness. For this Althusserian approach, SF is not 
so much a Suvinian cognitive estrangement as an identification 
with revolutionary possibility, producing the consciousness of the 
absolute difference that creates it. 

It is possible, then, to think about SF not in the bourgeois terms 
of the novel, but as an experimental science. The object of study 
is not the ideological reproduction of SF, but a philosophical 
self-reflection upon these conditions of ideological reproduction. 
To read is to discover the absolute difference a novel has from 
its own ideological form, to the degree that it overcomes its 
own implication in bourgeois structures of generic reproduction. 


Consequently, Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, which 
imagines a human species without a sex drive, can be taken 
as a concrete, scientific suggestion to engineer a human society 
that is not warped by libidinal investments. In looking to the 
limits of a world of ideological reproduction, Le Guin engineers 
the shock and disgust of actual difference, and its possibility 
in the science of genetics. Reading Le Guin as a proposition 
of actual difference brings the experience of reading closer to 
us, without the distorting effects of interpretation and ideas of 
mediation. Althusser's critique of ideology creates opportunities 
for discovering the experimental science that SF has in common 
with revolutionary consciousness. For Althusser, such science 
is the self-consciousness of capitalism, and enables a thinking 
of the conditions by which capitalism produces ideology. In Le 
Guin's novel, for instance, the figuration of a world without 
sex reveals the ideology of a sexed world. This is revolutionary 
because, as that which eludes ideology, this world without sex 
does not repeat that which has gone before, but inhabits the 
contemporary moment of creation. In this, Althusser looks to the 
absolute difference that escapes historical repetition, that creates 
the consciousness that is of itself revolutionary. SF is, as a genre, a 
structure of ideological reproduction, but it also fosters a critical 
and revolutionary consciousness of absolute difference. 

With gratitude to Ian Buchanan, Fredric Jameson and Patrick 
Quick, whose generosity of mind enabled this essay. 


1. Fredric Jameson, 'In Retrospect', Science Fiction Studies 1: 1 (Fall 
1974), p. 275; emphasis in original. 

2. John Frow, Marxism and Literary History (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 
1986), p. 38. 

3. Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics 
and History of a Literary Genre (New Haven: Yale University Press, 
1979), p. 8. 

4. Ibid., p. 221. 

5. Darko Suvin, 'The Science Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin', Science 
Fiction Studies 2: 3 (November 1975), p. 203. 


6. See Fredric Jameson, 'Metacommentary', PMLA 86: 1 (January 
1971), pp. 9-18; and The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a 
Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981). 

7. See Fredric Jameson, 'After Armageddon: Character Systems in Dr 
Bloodmoney', Science Fiction Studies 2: 1 (March 1975), pp. 31-42. 
Reprinted in Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire 
Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London: Verso, 2005), 
pp. 349-62. 

8. See A.J. Greimas and F. Rastier, 'The Interaction of Semiotic 
Constraints', Yale French Studies 41 (1968), pp. 86-105. 

9. The Political Unconscious develops this argument by turning 
Althusser's philosophical distinctions between types of causality into 
a dialectical argument, arguing that Althusser's Marxist science is 
historicist after all. 

10. See Louis Althusser and Etienne Balibar, Reading Capital, transl. Ben 
Brewster (London: New Left Books, 1970), pp. 119^t4. 

11. See Louis Althusser, For Marx, transl. Ben Brewster (Harmondsworth: 
Penguin, 1969); and Althusser and Balibar, Reading Capital. 

12. Fredric Jameson, 'World Reduction in Le Guin: The Emergence of 
Utopian Narrative', Science Fiction Studies 2: 3 (November 1975), 
p. 228. Reprinted in Jameson, Archaeologies, pp. 267-80. 

13. Jameson, 'After Armageddon', p. 42. 

14. Althusser and Balibar, Reading Capital, p. 52; emphasis in 

15. See Fredric Jameson, 'Ideology and Symbolic Action', Critical Inquiry 
5: 2 (Winter 1978), pp. 417-22. 

16. James Kavanagh, 'The Jameson Effect', New Orleans Review 11:1 
(1984), p. 25. 

17. James Iffland, 'The Political Unconscious of Jameson's The Political 
Unconscious', New Orleans Review 11:1 (1984), p. 27. 

18. Cornel West, 'Fredric Jameson's Marxist Hermeneutics', Boundary 
2 11: 1-2 (1982-83), p. 194. 

19. See Perry Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism (London: 
New Left Books, 1976), p. 76. 

20. This is, as I have suggested, reflected in the canonisation of Dick and 
Le Guin, novelists who narrate a retreat from changes to capitalism, 
rather than its wholesale transformation. Dick's characters attempt 
to rediscover their own humanity in worlds that have become less 
human after an apocalypse (Dr Bloodmoney (1965)), dehumanised 
by a machinic, fascist or commercial culture (Solar Lottery (1955), 
The Man in the High Castle (1965), Ubik (1969)) or have made 
pacts with inhuman androids or the dead who exert authority over 
the living (The Simulacra (1964), Counter-Clock World (1967)). 


As Daniel Fondaneche argues, when cheap translations of Dick 
circulated in France in the 1970s, he struck 'French readers as a 
revolutionary, as a prophet. But as a prophet of bygone times: those 
of the "revolution" of May 1968'. ('Dick, the Libertarian Prophet', 
transl. Daniele Chatelain and George Slusser, Science Fiction Studies 
15: 2 (July 1988), p. 149.) Dick's portrayals of the fragmentations 
of the psyche in mid-twentieth-century capitalism are exemplary. 
However, although his fiction does contain revolutionary glimpses 
of a changed world, it is ultimately interested in characters' attempts 
to deal with the world as it is. This is clearly comparable to the 
experiences of those 1960s revolutionaries who experimented with 
freedom in forms of protest and revolt, broke with long-established 
systems of power, and glimpsed the possibility of a different kind 
of future - yet then returned to their old mode of living. Le Guin's 
response to the 1960s can be found in The Dispossessed (1974), in 
which the anarchist philosophy of liberation upon which the Utopian 
moon of Anarres was established becomes just another regime of 
restrictive power. Le Guin's narrative outlines not only the joy of 
living in this Utopia, but also its limits, which drive the protagonist 
away from the barren moon on which his ancestors, fleeing from the 
planet around which it orbits, founded their ideal society. Scarcity 
becomes the penance served upon a revolution for some, rather 
than for all, and the novel's self-critical qualities do not address 
revolution so much as its failure. This is not to say that attention to 
Dick and Le Guin is misguided, but that this contradiction between 
conservative narrative content and critical imperatives is a generative 
mechanism for SF scholarship, an abstract machine that demands its 
own reproduction. This machine is located in institutions that cry 
witness to May 1968, and is yet invariably removed from a situation 
that might reproduce anything of the event itself. The universities 
are a site at which the trauma of failed revolution registers, as their 
very form - after the 1960s - reproduces this failure. 

21. West, 'Fredric Jameson's Marxist Hermeneutics', p. 195. 

22. See Althusser and Balibar, Reading Capital, pp. 130-1. 

23. Kristin Ross, 'Lefebvre on the Situationists: An Interview', transl. 
Kristin Ross, October 79 (1997), p. 75. 

24. See Siruationist International, 'On the Poverty of Student Life', transl. 
unknown (1966). Available at 
SI/en/display/4 (accessed 7 July 2008). 

25. See Gregory Benford, Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates 
Across Millennia (London: HarperCollins, 2000); and Stephen 
Dedman, '"Murder in the Air": The Quest for the Death Ray', 
Extrapolation (forthcoming, 2009). 


26. Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism: 
The Left- Wing Alternative, transl. Arnold Pomerans (London: Penguin, 
1968), p. 237. 

27. Ibid., p. 250. 

28. Ibid., p. 251. 

29. Ibid., pp. 18-19. 

30. See ibid., p. 12. 

3 1 . See ibid., p. 1 1 . The sad irony, of course, is that Cohn-Bendit's interest 
in mobilising violence against capitalism turned into support for 
capitalist violence. His subsequent career in German and European 
politics saw him support military interventions in both Bosnia and 

32. Pierre Macherey, A Theory of Literary Production, transl. Geoffrey 
Wall (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978), p. 217. 

33. See Althusser, For Marx; and Althusser and Balibar, Reading 

34. See Althusser, For Marx. 

35. Louis Marin, Utopics: Spatial Play, transl. Robert A. Vollrath (Atlantic 
Highlands: Humanities Press International, 1984), p. 3. 

36. Hans Koning, 1968: A Personal Report (London: Unwin Hyman, 
1987), p. 13. 

3 7. James Miller, Democracy is in the Streets: From Port Huron to the Siege 
of Chicago (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), p. 317. 

38. See Jacques Lacan, The Seminar XVII, The Other Side of 
Psychoanalysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, transl. Russell Grigg (New 
York: W.W. Norton, 2006). 

39. Jeffrey R. Di Leo, 'Editor's Note', Symploke 14: 1-2 (2006), p. 5. 

40. David R. Shumway, 'Marxism without Revolution: Towards a History 
of Discouragement', Symploke 14: 1-2 (2006), p. 31. 

41. See Althusser and Balibar, Reading Capital, pp. 125-6. 



Andrew Milner 

For Kathy Wench, my teenage sweetheart and first love, who grew up to be 
Kathryn Turnier and died of pancreatic cancer on Christmas Day 2007; and for 
Marion and Marc, who must learn to imagine life without her. 

Raymond Williams was almost certainly the single most important 
intellectual spokesman for the early British New Left of the 1950s 
and 1960s. He was a key figure in the development of British 
cultural studies and the founder of cultural materialism, which 
although often likened to American new historicism was, he insisted, 
'a Marxist theory ... indeed ... part of what I at least see as the 
central thinking of Marxism'. 1 He was variously - and inaccurately 
- likened to a British Lukacs, 2 a British Bloch, 3 and even, according 
to The Times, 'the British Sartre'. He also had an enduring interest 
in SF, participating as an editorial consultant for Science Fiction 
Studies and writing an SF novel, The Volunteers (1978). His 1978 
essay on 'Utopia and Science Fiction', first published in Science 
Fiction Studies, is one of the classic theoretical statements on the 
relationship between SF, Utopia and dystopia. Like Darko Suvin's 
Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (1979), Tom Moylan's Demand 
the Impossible (1986) and Fredric Jameson's Archaeologies of the 
Future (2005), it stressed the close kinship between the genres but, 
unlike them, it nonetheless insisted on their conceptual separateness. 
For Williams, they were different albeit cognate genres. This essay 
will use the categories of Williams' cultural materialism - especially 
'selective tradition' and 'structure of feeling' - to interrogate not 



only Suvin's (and to some extent Jameson's) understanding of the 
relationship between Utopia and SF, but also Williams' own. It will 
ask and attempt to answer three very general questions about SF: 
What was it? What wasn't it? When was it? 

What was SF? 

The first question is one of definition, of course, and academics 
love definition: it is a quite fundamental part of what they do. And 
it is difficult to imagine a more archetypically academic definition 
than Suvin's: 'a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient 
conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and 
cognition'; distinguished by 'the narrative dominance or hegemony 
of a fictional "novum" ... validated by cognitive logic'. 4 The 
testable, even examinable, questions come relatively easily: Where 
is the estrangement in this novel? What exactly is its novum? 
Is it strangely new? Is it hegemonic? Is it validated by cognitive 
logic? It is also a nicely elitist definition, insofar as it is confined 
to literature (excluding film and television), but nicely contrarian 
insofar as it seeks to expand the canon to include something as 
inherently disreputable as SF. It is simultaneously theoretically rich 
and respectably radical, deriving from Russian Formalism by way 
of Brecht and from Bloch out of Gramsci. It is, in short, just what 
the Doctor of Philosophy ordered. 

But academics are not the only ones attracted to this kind of 
exercise: the history of SF is littered with definitions by writers, 
fans, editors and critics. John Clute and Peter Nicholls list no 
fewer than eleven main candidates; 5 less traditionally magisterial 
but more inclusive, currently lists 27. The most 
famous is probably Hugo Gernsback's on the range and scope 
of his new magazine Amazing Stories: 'the Jules Verne, H.G. 
Wells and Edgar Allan Poe type of story - a charming romance 
intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision'. 6 But Brian 
Aldiss' 1986 redefinition surely runs it close: 'the search for a 
definition of mankind and his status in the universe which will 
stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science) 
... characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mode'. 7 If 


Gernsback's opening editorial was essentially prospective in intent, 
its referents were nonetheless retrospective: Verne, Wells and Poe. 
Aldiss' reference to the Gothic is similarly retrospective: hence his 
decision to trace the origins of the species to Mary Shelley. Verne 
himself credited Poe as an early influence; 8 Wells' The Island of 
Doctor Moreau (1896) is clearly indebted to Frankenstein (1818);' 
Verne and Wells emphatically insisted on their differences from 
each other; 10 and everyone - Zamyatin, Capek, Huxley, Orwell 
- insisted on their debt to and differences from Wells. 1 1 Orwell also 
defined his work in relation to the 'kind of book' represented by 
Zamyatin's We (1924). 12 And even Shelley explained the novelty 
of her fiction in retrospective terms, as being concerned with the 
possible consequences and ethical implications of a hypothetical 
scientific development, rather than the supernatural phenomena 
of more conventionally Gothic romance: 'The event on which the 
interest of the story depends is exempt from the disadvantages of 
a mere tale of spectres or enchantment'. 13 Only Aldiss would have 
described his work as 'science fiction': Gernsback's early magazines 
published 'scientifiction'; Verne wrote voyages extraordinaires and 
romans scientifiques; Wells, 'scientific romances'; Poe, 'tales of the 
grotesque and arabesque'. The repeated intertextual referencing 
nonetheless suggests the presence, if not of a genre, then at least 
of a tradition. 

The first part of Suvin's Metamorphoses is the account of the 
structure of a genre, the second, of the history of a tradition, 
running from More's Utopia (1516) to Capek's War With the Newts 
( 1 936). If there is an obvious logical complementarity between these 
exercises, there is also, nonetheless, a practically unresolved tension, 
in this particular instance, between the literary theorist, aiming to 
define the genre, and the literary historian, attempting to chart its 
evolution. So Suvin is simultaneously insistent that the 'concept of 
SF cannot be deduced 'empirically from the work called thus', but 
that it is 'inherent in the literary objects'; that it can be reached only 
through an effort 'to educe and formulate the differentia specifica 
of the SF narration', but that 'the scholar does not invent it out of 
the whole cloth'. 14 At first sight, this is bewildering: if the concept 
inheres in the literary objects, then why can't it be deduced from 


them? The end-product - but also the axiomatic premise - is his 
famous definition cited above, in which theory clearly triumphs 
over history, genre over tradition. But what follows is, nonetheless, 
the history of a tradition, of which 'the significant writers ... were 
quite aware'. 15 

Which leads me to two propositions - one on genre, the other 
on tradition, and both deriving ultimately from Williams. Suvin 
describes genre as 'a socioaesthetic entity with a specific inner life, yet 
in constant osmosis with other literary genres, science, philosophy, 
everyday socioeconomic life, and so on'. 16 This nicely combines a 
formalist sense of generic specificity with a more historicist sense of 
the possibility of variation over time. But there is something strange, 
nonetheless, about this use of the term 'entity', which suggests an 
overly formalist, perhaps even fetishistic, conception of the socio- 
aesthetic: socio-aesthetic a genre may be, but an entity it surely is 
not. The problem here lies with Suvin's understanding of genre as 
overwhelmingly a matter of classification. It is that, of course, but 
it is also a set of practical conventions, combining a complex mix 
of prohibitions, recommendations and prescriptions which together 
constitute a cultural technology for the production and reception 
of particular kinds of text. Williams argued that 'form', a term he 
preferred to genre, was primarily a matter not of classification but 
of social relationship: 'a social process which ... becomes a social 
product' and 'the common property ... of writers and audiences 
or readers, before any communicative composition can occur'. 17 
Understood thus, as a prospectively productive force within the 
literary mode of production, genre loses the fetishistic quality it 
acquires in Suvin. It also becomes clear why genre inheres in literary 
objects, but cannot be deduced from them: they bear its impress 
because it pre-exists them as a tool for their manufacture. 

An analogous argument may be mounted with respect to 
tradition. For Suvin, tradition is inherited from the past, developed 
and modified in the present, then handed on to the future as a gift 
from the present-become-past. Hence, Wells 

collected ... all the main influences of earlier writers - from Lucian and Swift 
to Kepler, Verne, and Flammarion, from Plato and Mary Shelley, Poe, Bulwer, 


and the subliterature of planetary and subterranean voyages, future wars, and 
the like - and transformed them in his own image, whence they entered into 
the treasury of subsequent SF.' fl 

There are other ways of theorising tradition, however, such as 
Williams' notion of 'selective tradition'. Culture, he observed, exists 
at three levels: the lived culture of a particular time and place; 
the recorded culture of deposited texts, artifacts and knowledges; 
and the selective tradition sustained subsequently. The tradition 
thus formed is, at one level, 'a general human culture', at another, 
'the historical record of a particular society', but at yet another 'a 
rejection of considerable areas of what was once a living culture'. 19 
Selection is a retrospective process, made and remade, not by 
the past, but in and for a sequence of successive 'presents', as 'a 
continual selection and re-selection of ancestors'; it is therefore 
motivated, in part, by contemporary interests and values, by 'many 
kinds of special interest, including class interest'. 20 He later restated 
this position in more expressly Gramscian terms: 'It is a version of 
the past ... intended to connect with and ratify the present. What it 
offers ... is a sense oi predisposed continuity' . u Williams' argument 
was directed at the high literary canon and had as its immediate 
target cultural conservatives like F.R. Leavis. But what holds for 
Leavis' 'Great Tradition' also holds for Suvin's SF tradition. It too 
is necessarily selective. 

Which returns us to our starting point in that plethora of 
definitions, since each of these represents an attempt to redefine 
the tradition selectively by re-selecting its ancestors. This is as true 
of Suvin as of Gernsback or Aldiss. As Patrick Parrinder rightly 
observed of Suvin's Metamorphoses: '"Cognitive estrangement" 
may be taken to be a fact about the 1970s, just as T.S. Eliot's 
"dissociation of sensibility" was a fact about the 1920s'. 22 This 
is not to suggest that all definitions are equally valid - though 
logically they are, since all definitions are by definition true - 
but only that they are all equally socio-aesthetic, and therefore 
necessarily to some extent weapons in the struggle for the power 
to define. This selectivity is most apparent wherever a redefinition 
explicitly prescribes either inclusion or exclusion. In Suvin's case 


the relevant instances are, respectively, Utopia, included by virtue 
of its bearing on the novum, and fantasy, excluded by virtue of its 
cognitive inadequacy. 

What wasn't SF? Utopia or Fantasy? 

Suvin defines a Active Utopia as an 'imaginary community ... in 
which human relations are organized more perfectly than in the 
author's community'. 23 Thus understood, he argues, Utopia becomes 
'the socio-political subgenre of science fiction', 24 that is, social- 
science-fiction. This non sequitur had the effect of expanding SF, 
at a stroke, to accommodate not only More and Bacon, Rabelais 
and Campanella, Saint-Simon and Fenelon, but also Aeschylus 
and Aristophanes. It was a controversial move, at odds with much 
contemporary usage among SF writers, fans and critics. It has 
supporters, nonetheless: Jameson's Archaeologies of the Future 
cites it with approval on at least five occasions. 25 In effect, Suvin 
and Jameson were each attempting a redefinition of the selective SF 
tradition aimed at retrospectively englobing the genre of Utopia. For 
both, the attempt is inspired in part by Ernst Bloch's The Principle 
of Hope (1954-59). 

Suvin derived the novum, both as term and concept, from 
Bloch. The term first appears in a brief reference to 'the Front 
and the Novum' towards the end of Bloch's 'Introduction', 26 but 
the concepts are not formally elaborated until chapter seventeen. 
There, Bloch argues that a 'philosophy of comprehended hope' must 
stand on 'the Front of the world process', that is, on the historically 
'foremost segment of Being of animated, utopianly open matter'. 27 
The Front, he continues, is necessarily related to newness, the New, 
the Novum. And, if the Novum is really new, it will be characterised 
by 'abstract opposition to mechanical repetition' and by a specific 
repetition of its own, that of 'the still unbecome total goal-content 
itself, which is suggested and tended, tested and processed out in 
the progressive newnesses of history'. 28 Historically, the dialectical 
emergence of this total content - which Bloch terms the Ultimum 
- will eventually end repetition, if only because it represents the 
highest newness, which will triumph by means of a total leap out 


of everything that has ever existed, a leap towards the newness of 
identity. 29 Short of the Ultimum, however, there remains only the 
advancing Front and the series of Novums it encounters. These 
are not necessarily literary or artistic, but art is nonetheless both 'a 
laboratory and also a feast of implemented possibilities'. 30 

Bloch's intentions in The Principle of Hope were primarily political 
and philosophical, but the book's range is quasi-encyclopaedic 
nonetheless, quite literally from dreams to theology. It includes an 
extensive discussion of Utopian literature, from Solon to Morris by 
way of Plato, the Stoics, Augustine, Joachim de Fiore, Campanella, 
Owen, Proudhon and Bakunin, culminating in an utterly dismissive 
account of Wells as 'dilletantism and chaff'. 31 Despite Bloch's 
enthusiasm for the circus, the fairytale and other older popular 
forms, post-Wellsian SF rates no mention whatsoever. Indeed, 
Bloch ignores both the German tradition of the Staatsroman - the 
politically Utopian novel, literally the (ideal) state novel - which 
has been analysed as a direct precursor to SF, and the German 
SF writers published in English translation by Gernsback. 32 The 
omission is no mere oversight: as late as 1974, Bloch would remain 
deeply dismissive of the 'purely technological Utopias' of 'science 
fiction'. 33 The novelty of Suvin's argument was to reverse exactly 
this judgement and to insist, both with and against Bloch, that 'the 
novum is the necessary condition of SF'. 34 

Suvin's exclusion of fantasy derives from Brecht's insistence on 
the interrelation of estrangement and cognition in Short Organum 
for the Theatre (1949), in which he argued for his Verfremdungsef- 
fekt, or V-Effekt, 'designed to free socially conditioned phenomena 
from the stamp of familiarity which protects them against our grasp 
today'; the purpose of his theatre is thus a knowledge through 
estrangement akin to Galileo's 'detached eye'. 35 For Suvin, these 
become the necessary and sufficient conditions for SF: 'the presence 
and interaction of estrangement and cognition'. 36 There is clear 
prescriptive intent here: to exclude myth, folktale and fantasy. 37 
Indeed, Suvin's insistence on the cognitive functions of SF is 
accompanied by a profound aversion to fantasy as 'proto-Fascist 
revulsion against modern civilization, materialist rationalism, and 
such . . . organized around an ideology unchecked by any cognition 


... its narrative logic ... simply overt ideology plus Freudian erotic 
patterns'. 18 To market SF alongside fantasy, as commercial bookshops 
do, is thus a 'rampantly socio-pathological phenomenon'. 39 The 
exclusion of fantasy is perhaps less controversial than the inclusion 
of Utopia: it echoes a long tradition among SF writers, editors and 
readers, reaching back to Gernsback and John W. Campbell, Jr, and, 
before them to Wells, Verne and Shelley. And once again Jameson 
echoes Suvin: 'the scientific pretensions of SF lend the Utopian 
genre an epistemological gravity that any kinship with generic 
fantasy is bound to undermine'. 40 Like Suvin, Jameson registers 
the commercial pressures towards genre-blending between SF and 
fantasy and, like Suvin, sees fantasy as 'technically reactionary'. 41 
The implication seems clear that only Tolkienesque reactionaries 
would dabble in such stuff. 

And yet, the empirical convergence between SF and fantasy does 
seem to be a 'fact' of contemporary cultural life. The World Science 
Fiction Society, which for decades made its annual Hugo Awards 
on near-Suvinian criteria (despite fantasy long being eligible), broke 
new ground when it awarded its 2001 prize for the best novel to 
J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), and 
that for the best dramatic presentation to Crouching Tiger, Hidden 
Dragon (Lee, 2000). In 2002, the latter award went to Lord of the 
Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Jackson, 2001), and in 2003 
it was divided into a long-form award, which went to Lord of the 
Rings: The Two Towers (Jackson, 2002), and a short-form award, 
which went to 'Conversations with Dead People' (2002), an episode 
of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003). In 2004, Jackson swept 
the board, taking the long-form award for Lord of the Rings: The 
Return of the King (2003) and the short-form award for Gollum's 
Acceptance Speech at the 2004 MTV Movie Awards. SF proper held 
up better in the novels and in subsequent competition for the best 
dramatic presentation, except in 2007, when Pan's Labyrinth (del 
Toro, 2006) won the long-form award. There was no significant 
sentiment, however, at any of the relevant World Science Fiction 
Conventions, that these fantasy awards represented some kind of 
category mistake. Nor did Science Fiction Studies - co-founded 
by Suvin in 1 973, and for which Jameson served for many years 


as a consulting editor - balk at including, in its 2003 special issue 
on the British SF boom, an extensive discussion of the work of 
China Mieville,'' 2 which makes similar use of fantasy. But neither 
del Toro nor Mieville are Tolkienesque reactionaries: the former 
has directed two quite explicitly anti-fascist Spanish Civil War 
films (Pan's Labyrinth is, in some respects, a sequel to 2001's The 
Devil's Backbone), while the latter is a key figure in contemporary 
critical legal theory, a co-editor of Historical Materialism: Research 
in Critical Marxist Theory and an active member of the British 
Socialist Workers Party, as well as the author of the Bas-Lag trilogy 
- Perdido Street Station (2000), The Scar (2002) and Iron Council 
(2004) - novels as redolent of Marxism as with magic. If Mieville 
has apparently retracted his famously intemperate description of 
Tolkien as 'the wen on the arse of fantasy', this is more for reasons 
of technical accuracy - by definition, a wen can develop only on 
the face - than political compromise. 

My point is not that Suvin and Jameson are 'objectively' mistaken 
in their definitions of SF, but rather that those definitions are best 
understood as interventions into the selective tradition, which one 
will accept only to the extent that one shares their purpose. And, 
to judge by the Hugo Awards, China Mieville and Science Fiction 
Studies, theirs seems to have been a largely unsuccessful intervention. 
My own position is less concerned with shaping the selective 
tradition than with analysing and explaining it, for which I will 
draw on Williams' sense of SF, Utopia and dystopia as cognate rather 
than identical, and of these forms as means of cultural production. 
There are four characteristic types of alternative reality, Williams 
argued: the paradise or hell; the positively or negatively externally 
altered world; the positive or negative willed transformation; and 
the positive or negative technological transformation. SF, Utopia 
and dystopia are each centrally concerned with the 'presentation of 
otherness', Williams continues, and thus depend on an element of 
discontinuity from 'realism'. 43 But the discontinuity is more radical 
in non-utopian/non-dystopian SF, since the Utopian and dystopian 
modes require for their political efficacy an 'implied connection' 
with the real: the whole point of Utopia or dystopia is to acquire 
some positive or negative leverage on the present. By contrast, other 


kinds of SF and fantasy are free to enjoy greater latitude in their 
relations to the real. 

The willed transformation and the technological transforma- 
tion are therefore the more characteristically Utopian or dystopian 
modes, because transformation - how the world might be changed, 
whether for better or worse - will normally be more important to 
Utopia than otherness per se. SF can and does deploy all four modes, 
but in each case draws on '"science", in its variable definitions'. 4 ' 1 
SF may be Utopian or dystopian, and Utopias and dystopias may 
be science-fictional, but the genres are nonetheless analytically dis- 
tinguishable by virtue of the presence or absence of science (and 
technology). This issue is carefully avoided by Suvin's treatment of 
science as equivalent to cognition, 45 but remains central for Williams. 
And rightly so, surely, for it is what most clearly distinguishes the 
SF selective tradition not only from the 'older and now residual 
modes' such as the Earthly Paradise, the Blessed Islands, the Land 
of Cockayne, but also from non-SF Utopias. 4 * And there is science in 
both del Toro and Mieville, most obviously in the absolutely realistic 
and unsentimental representations of the dynamics of repression, 
oppression and exploitation in Fascist Spain and New Crobuzon, 
which coexist with, complement and counterpoint the other more 
genuinely fantastic elements. This is something very close to what 
Franz Roh, and after him the Latin American 'boom' novelists, 
meant by 'magical realism'. 

When was SF? 

This takes us to the third question, that of periodisation. Part 
of the purpose of Suvin's definition was to expand the genre so 
as to include a substantial part of the literary and philosophical 
canon. There are thus, according to Suvin, six main instances of 
SF in the 'Euro-Mediterranean tradition': the Hellenic (Aeschylus, 
Aristophanes, Plato, Theopompus, Euhemerus, Hecataeus, 
Iambulus); the Hellenic-cum-Roman (Virgil, Antonius Diogenes, 
Lucian); the Renaissance-Baroque (More, Rabelais, Bacon, 
Campanella, Cyrano, Swift); the democratic revolution (Mercier, 
Saint-Simon, Fourier, Blake, Shelley); the fin-de-siecle (Bellamy, 


Morris, Verne, Wells); and the modern (from Wells, Zamyatin and 
Capek through Gernsback and Campbell to the present). 47 Where 
Suvin detects formal continuities, not only between Wells and More, 
but between both and Aeschylus, Williams stresses the historical 
discontinuities between the pre-modern and the modern. This is 
the general significance of his 'long revolution', but also, here, the 
specific significance of his 'structure of feeling'. 

The latter is a key concept in Williams' work, designed to 

a structure in the sense that you could perceive it operating in one work after 
another which weren't otherwise connected - people weren't learning it from 
each other; yet . . . one of feeling much more than of thought - a pattern of 
impulses, restraints, tones, for which the best evidence was often the actual 
conventions of literary or dramatic writing.* 8 

From The Long Revolution on, he had used the term to designate 
both the immediately experiential and the generationally specific 
aspects of artistic process. In Marxism and Literature, these 
emphases are conjoined with a stress on cultural pre-emergence, 
in which the experiential and generationally specific remain at odds 
with official culture precisely because they are indeed new: 'practical 
consciousness is what is actually being lived ... not only what it is 
thought is being lived'. 4 ' Structures of feeling, he continues, 

can be defined as social experiences in solution, as distinct from other social 
semantic formations which have been precipitated and are more evidently 
and more immediately available ... it is primarily to emergent formations ... 
that the structure of feeling, as solution, relates. 50 

A structure of feeling is thus the element within the more general 
culture that most actively anticipates subsequent mutations in the 
general culture itself - in short, the novum encountered by the 
advancing front. And a crucial element in the emergent structure 
of feeling of the mid nineteenth century was, as Williams himself 
stressed on more than one occasion, the new industrial science and 
its technologies: 


Again and again, even by critics of the society, the excitement of this 
extraordinary release of man's powers was acknowledged and shared ... 
'These are our poems,' Carlyle said in 1842, looking at one of the new 
locomotives, and this element ... is central to the whole culture. 51 

It is also what most clearly distinguished the new worlds of SF from 
the alternative islands of older Utopian fiction. 

An emergent culture, Williams observed, requires not only distinct 
kinds of immediate cultural practice, but also, and crucially, 'new 
forms or adaptations of forms'. 52 The nineteenth-century SF novel 
was exactly this: a new form radically different from those that 
preceded it. And, insofar as it had been an adaptation of any pre- 
existing form, this was not so much the Utopia as the historical novel. 
Both Suvin and Jameson register the affinities between the latter 
and SF: when Suvin introduces pluridimensional temporality into 
his basic taxonomy of literary forms, he treats SF as the estranged 
counterpart of historical realism;" and Jameson argues that the 
historical novel ceased to be 'functional' more or less contempo- 
raneously with the beginning of SF, in the simultaneous historical 
moment of Flaubert's Salammbo (1862) and Verne's Five Weeks 
in a Balloon (1863). In an essay first published in 1982, Jameson 
wrote that the new SF registered a 'nascent sense of the future ... in 
the space on which a sense of the past had . . . been inscribed'. 54 This 
seems a much more productive starting point for SF history than the 
post-Suvinian obsession with More which actually opens Jameson's 
Archaeologies, and towards which the 1982 essay, included in it, 
also moved. For the typical subject-matter of SF is future history, 
euchronia and dyschronia, rather than Utopia and dystopia; its 
precursors Scott and Dumas, rather than More and Bacon. Verne 
was, of course, a protege of Dumas. And Verne's second SF novel, 
written in the same year as Five Weeks in a Balloon but rejected 
by his editor, Hetzel, as too pessimistic, and therefore unpublished 
until 1994, was Paris in the Twentieth Century. 

With this connection between SF and the historical novel tentatively 
established, I would like to proceed to a few concluding remarks on 
the history of SF as a form. Williams identified three distinct levels 
of form, which he termed respectively 'modes', 'genres' and 'types'. 


Here, 'mode' refers to the deepest level of form, as in the distinction 
between the dramatic, lyrical and narrative modes, which persist 
historically through quite different social orders; 'genre' refers to 
relatively persistent instances of each mode, such as the epic and 
the novel within the narrative mode, which are subject to greater 
variation between different social orders; and 'type' denotes radical 
distributions, redistributions and innovations of interest within 
given modes and genres, still more variable and still more dependent 
on particular social relations. 55 The examples Williams gave of 
the latter included bourgeois drama and the realist novel. But it 
should be clear that, in these terms, SF represents exactly such a 
radical redistribution and innovation of interest within the novel 
and short story genres, which occurs, in the first instance, in the 
nineteenth century. This is clearly a much less literary business than 
either Suvin or Jameson would have it. Of course, SF texts have 
rifled through the western cultural legacy in search of inspiration: 
Forbidden Planet (Wilcox, 1956) famously rewrote The Tempest 
with Robby the Robot in the role of Ariel. But SF readers, writers 
and critics do not claim Shakespeare for their own in anything like 
the way Gemsback claimed Poe, Verne and Wells; nor that in which 
Bruce Sterling claimed Shelley's Frankenstein as 'a wellspring of 
science fiction as a genre', albeit only 'humanist' SF. 56 Borrowings 
from Shakespeare - or from More or Plato - can be important 
and interesting; but they are borrowings from outside the selective 
tradition of SF, nonetheless. 

The SF selective tradition was conceived in England and France 
- that is, at the centre of nineteenth-century capitalism, which was 
also, in Franco Moretti's terms, the core of the nineteenth-century 
world literary economy. 57 Just as the earlier decades of the century 
had been dominated, in terms of both sales and translations, by 
the historical novels of Scott and Dumas, so were the later by the 
scientific romances of Verne and Wells. Astonishingly, Verne is 
still in the early twenty-first century the most widely translated 
of all French novelists, no matter how inadequate many of the 
translations. 58 The SF selective tradition continued in Britain and 
France throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first (through 


Huxley, Orwell, Lewis, Wyndham, Hoyle, Clarke, Moorcock, 
Ballard, Banks, MacLeod and Mieville in Britain; Rosny, Anatole 
France, Renard, Spitz, Boulle, Merle, Walther, Brussolo, Arnaud 
and Houellebecq in France). The US has a fitful presence in the early 
tradition, essentially through Poe and Bellamy, but each of these 
is arguably more significant for their impact on the Anglo-French 
core, through Verne and Morris respectively, than on America itself. 
In the twentieth century the selective tradition's frontiers expanded 
to include the Weimar Republic (Gail, von Harbou and Lang, von 
Hanstein), early Soviet Russia (Belyaev, Bogdanov, Bulgakov, 
Mayakovsky, Platonov, Alexei Tolstoy, Zamyatin) and inter-war 
Czechoslovakia (Capek, Troska). Exported to Japan in the post- 
World War II period (Abe, Hoshi, Komatsu, Murakami), it also 
flourished in Communist Poland (Fialkowski, Lem, Wisniewski- 
Snerg) and more significantly in late-Communist Russia (Altov, 
Bilenkin, Bulychev, Emtsev and Parnov, the Strugatsky brothers, 
Tarkovsky). During the inter-war period, the genre also flourished 
in the US, which very rapidly became central and eventually near- 
hegemonic (Gernsback, Campbell, Asimov, Heinlein and the pulps) 
- a situation which continued through the New Wave (Delany, 
Dick, Ellison, Spinrad, Tiptree, Zelazny) and feminism (Le Guin, 
Russ, Piercy) and on to cyberpunk (Gibson, Sterling) and the new 
humanism of writers like Kim Stanley Robinson. In the twentieth 
century, and in America in particular, this type also expanded to 
embrace other media, notably film and television. 

At the risk of over-generalisation, let me suggest that there are 
three main geo-historical moments in this tradition. Their darker 
undercurrents not withstanding - one thinks of Nemo and of the 
Morlocks - Verne and Wells had generally written from within 
a self-confidently optimistic positivism, often bordering on the 
Utopian. SF in Germany, Russia and Mitteleuropa abandoned 
this liberal futurology, opting either for an explicitly communist 
utopianism or, perhaps more interestingly, for dystopia, whether 
communist or capitalist - a theme later re-imported into England 
by Orwell, that most un-English of English icons. Positivistic SF 
would be resumed in inter-war America - but in a different register, 
nonetheless - as an escapist response to the Great Depression rather 


than the easy celebration of scientific triumphalism. Hence the 
quasi-Marxian character of Isaac Asimov's early 'Futurianism'. 59 
This second epistemic shift is vital, and was a distinctly American 
achievement. Through it, a marginal sub-form eventually succeeded 
in generalising itself across the entire field of popular culture, from 
novel to film to television, so as to become the nearest we may 
ever have to a postmodern epic. It is a messy beast, of course, as 
fashionably hybrid as any postmodernist could wish, an 'at once 
liberating and promiscuous mode', as Williams wrote, which 'has 
moved beyond the Utopian; in a majority of cases . . . because it has 
fallen short of it.' But, as he also observed, 'it is part of the power 
of science fiction that it is always potentially a mode of authentic 
shift: a crisis of exposure which produces a crisis of possibility; a 
reworking, in imagination, of all forms and conditions'. 60 A resource 
of hope, then, at least in part, at least potentially. 


1. Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford 
University Press, 1977), pp. 5-6. 

2. Terry Eagleton, Criticism and Ideology: A Study in Marxist Literary 
Theory (London: New Left Books, 1976), p. 36. 

3. Tony Pinkney, 'Williams and the "Two Faces of Modernism"', in Terry 
Eagleton, ed., Raymond Williams: Critical Perspectives (Cambridge: 
Polity, 1989), pp. 28-31. 

4. Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and 
History of a Literary Genre (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), 
pp. 7-8, 63. 

5. John Clute and Peter Nicholls, eds, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction 
(London: Orbit, 1993), pp. 311-14. 

6. Hugo Gernsback, 'A New Sort of Magazine', Amazing Stories: The 
Magazine of ScientipZction 1 (1926), p. 3. 

7. Brian Aldiss with David Wingrove, Trillion Year Spree: The History 
of Science Fiction (London: House of Stratus, 2001), p. 4. 

8. See Jules Verne, 'Edgar Poe et ses ouevres', in F. Lacassin, ed., Textes 
oublies (Paris: Union Generale, 1979). 

9. See Robert M. Philmus, 'Introducing Moreau', in Philmus, ed., The 
Island of Doctor Moreau: A Variorum Text (Athens: University of 
Georgia Press, 1993). 


10. Jules Verne, 'Jules Verne Interviewed, 9 October 1903', in Patrick 
Parrinder, ed., H.G. Wells: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge, 
1997), pp. 101-2; H.G. Wells, 'Preface' to Seven Famous Novels by 
H.G. Wells (New York: Garden City, 1934), p. vii. 

11. See Yevgeny Zamyatin, 'H.G. Wells ( 1 922) ', in Mira Ginsburg, ed. and 
transl., A Soviet Heretic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press); Karel 
Capek, Letters from England, transl. Paul Selver (London: Geoffrey 
Bles, 1925), pp. 180-1; Karel Capek, 'Appendix: Of the Sexual Life 
of the Newts', in War with the Newts, transl. M. and R. Weatherall 
(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1996); Aldous Huxley, 'To 
Mrs Kethevan Roberts', 18 May 1931, in Grover Smith, ed., Letters 
of Aldous Huxley (London: Chatto &c Windus, 1969), p. 384; George 
Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962), 
pp. 169-72; George Orwell, 'Wells, Hitler and the World State', in 
Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, eds, Collected Essays, Journalism and 
Letters: Vol. 2: My Country Right or Left (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 

12. George Orwell, 'Letter to Gleb Struve', 17 February 1944, in Sonia 
Orwell and Ian Angus, eds, Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters: 
Vol. 3: As 1 Please (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970), p. 1 18. 

13. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (Oxford: 
Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 13. 

14. Suvin, Metamorphoses, p. 63. 

15. Ibid., p. 12. 

16. Ibid., p. 53. 

17. Williams, Marxism and Literature, pp. 187-8. 

1 8. Suvin, Metamorphoses, p. 220. 

1 9. Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 
1965), p. 68. 

20. Ibid., pp. 69, 68. 

21. Williams, Marxism and Literature, p. 116; emphasis in original. 

22. Patrick Parrinder, 'Introduction: Learning from Other Worlds', in 
Parrinder, ed., Learning from Other Worlds: Estrangement, Cognition 
and the Politics of Science Fiction and Utopia (Liverpool: Liverpool 
University Press, 2000), p. 10. 

23. Suvin, Metamorphoses, p. 45. 

24. Ibid., p. 61. 

25. Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called 
Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London: Verso, 2005), pp. xiv, 

26. Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope, transl. Neville Plaice, Stephen 
Plaice and Paul Knight (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986), p. 18. 


27. Ibid., p. 200. 

28. Ibid., p. 202. 

29. Ibid., pp. 202-3. 

30. Ibid., p. 216. 

31. Ibid., p. 617. 

32. See Martin Schwonke, Vom Staatsroman zur Science Fiction: Eine 
Untersuchung iiber Geschichte und Funktion der naturwissenschaftlich- 
technischen Utopie (Stuttgart: Ferdinand Enke, 1957); Linda Jordan, 
German Science Fiction in the Science-Fiction Magazines of Hugo 
Gernsback (1926-1935) (MA Thesis, Montreal: McGill University, 

33. Arno Miinster, ed., Tagtrdume vom Aufrechten Gang: Sechs Interviews 
mit Ernst Bloch (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1977), p. 71. 

34. Suvin, Metamorphoses, p. 65. 

35. Bertolt Brecht, 'A Short Organum for the Theatre', in John Willett, 
ed. and transl., Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic 
(London: Methuen, 1974), p. 192 

36. Suvin, Metamorphoses, pp. 7-8. 

37. Ibid., pp. 7-9, 20. 

38. Ibid., p. 69. 

39. Ibid., p. 9. 

40. Jameson, Archaeologies, p. 57. 

41. Ibid., p. 60. 

42. See Joan Gordon, 'Reveling in Genre: An Interview with China 
Mieville', Science Fiction Studies 30: 3, pp. 355-73, and 'Hybridity, 
Heterotopia, and Mateship in China Mieville's Perdido Street Station', 
Science Fiction Studies 30: 3, pp. 456-76. 

43. See Raymond Williams, 'Utopia and Science Fiction', in Problems in 
Materialism and Culture (London: New Left Books, 1980), p. 198; 
emphasis in original. 

44. Williams, 'Utopia and Science Fiction', pp. 196-9. 

45. Suvin, Metamorphoses, p. 13. 

46. Williams, 'Utopia and Science Fiction', p. 198. 

47. Suvin, Metamorphoses, pp. 87, 205. 

48. Raymond Williams, Politics and Letters: Interviews with New Left 
Review (London: New Left Books, 1979), p. 159. 

49. Williams, Marxism and Literature, pp. 130-1. 

50. Ibid., pp. 133-4; emphases in original. 

51. Williams, Long Revolution, p. 88. 

52. Williams, Marxism and Literature, p. 126. 

53. Suvin, Metamorphoses, p. 21. 

54. Jameson, Archaeologies, p. 286. 


55. Raymond Williams, Culture (Glasgow: Fontana, 1981), pp. 194—6. 

56. Bruce Sterling, 'Cyberpunk in the nineties', Interzone 38, pp. 39-41. 

57. Franco Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900 (London: 
Verso, 1998), p. 174. 

58. See UNESCO, Index Translationum (First Quarter, Paris: UNESCO, 

59. See Damon Knight, The Futurians (New York: John Day, 1977). 

60. Williams, 'Utopia and Science Fiction', p. 209; emphasis in 



China Mieville 

The Negation of Some Negation or Other 

Implicit in an early proposed subtitle of this collection - 'Marxism, 
Science Fiction, Fantasy' - was an argument, even a polemic, with 
and about something approaching an orthodoxy. In conceiving its 
remit as Marxist approaches to SF and fantasy, the clause implies 
that it is due to more than coincidence or bad taxonomy that the 
two sub-genres are shelved near each other: that they are, in fact, 
at some important and constitutive level, united. 

This is neither an uncontroversial contention nor a new debate. 
Since the publication of his seminal Metamorphoses of Science 
Fiction (1979), the most powerful current in SF scholarship, 
particularly in Marxist/ Marxisant traditions, has been that of 
Darko Suvin, according to which SF and fantasy are and must 
remain not only radically distinct but hierarchically related. 
To briefly restate familiar positions, in Suvin's enormously and 
justly influential, if by now somewhat notorious, approach, 
SF is characterised by 'cognitive estrangement', in which the 
alienation from the everyday effected by the non-realist setting 
- 'an imaginative framework alternative to the author's empirical 
environment' 1 - is 'cognitively' organised. As one of various 
Others implied by that model, generic fantasy comes in for a 
particular savaging, because, though it also 'estranges', it is 
'committed to the imposition of anti-cognitive laws', is 'a sub- 
literature of mystification', 2 'proto-Fascist', anti-rationalist, 
anti-modern, 'overt ideology plus Freudian erotic patterns'.' Suvin 



acknowledges that the boundaries between SF and fantasy are 
often blurred, at the levels of creation, reception and marketing, 
but this he sees not only as 'rampantly sociopathological', 4 but 
'a terrible contamination'. 5 

In the last decade this paradigm has come under increasing 
question (including by Andrew Milner, in his essay in this volume). 
Nonetheless, this broadly 'Suvinian' approach remains dominant. 
In 2000, Suvin himself re-examined the genres and revised his 
earlier 'blanket rejection' of fantasy to consider it a worthy object 
of analysis, in an important but frustrating essay, by turns brilliantly 
perspicacious and abruptly theoretically foreclosed. 6 Admirable 
fantasy is now acknowledged as at least a possibility, though one 
less likely than similarly laudable SF - but it is telling that, even 
here, Suvin's grudging open-mindedness is not predicated on any 
erosion of the proposed firewall between fantasy and SF, 7 but is 
an unfortunate necessity: the quantitative explosion of fantasy 
(an expression of social traumas) and ebbing of SF is a situation 
the critic 'may to a large extent rightly dislike' 8 but is one with 
which it is her intellectual responsibility to engage. 

Arguably the two most important recent Marxist works on SF, 
both drawing in key (if not uncritical) ways on Suvin, continue 
to privilege SF over a sharply distinguished fantasy. Fredric 
Jameson, for whom the Utopian function is the fundamental 
unit of what radicalism SF possesses, describes fantasy, which 
lacks SF's 'epistemological gravity' as 'technically reactionary'. 9 
According to Carl Freedman's Critical Theory and Science 
Fiction, supposedly cognition-less fantasy can offer at best 
'irrationalist estrangements'. 10 (The strength of this tradition, 
and its ideological hold even on those critical of it, may be 
one reason why - with no intentionality that either editor can 
recall - fantasy disappeared from this volume's subtitle and the 
information for contributors.) 

Elsewhere, I have argued that this sharp distinction is 
untenable." Indeed, I believe that the embedded condescension and 
even despite towards fantasy that this paradigm has bequeathed 
stands as perhaps the major obstruction to theoretical progress 
in the field. However, given the importance of so much work 


indebted to the Suvinian position, as well as its extraordinary 
paradigmatic resilience - and in the face of all the cheerful 
consumption-level blurring of that SF/fantasy boundary that 
Milner points out - this intervention starts not from opposition, 
but submission. Here I accept the predicates and concomitant 
heuristic efficacy of the SF/fantasy distinction, and from there 
attempt an immanent critique. 

The paradigm's lacunae and possible strategies for overcoming 
them arise precisely from following its own logic, through its 
nuancing particularly in the hands of Freedman. The conclusions 
to be drawn are, I hope, not so much paradoxical as - perhaps 
camply - dialectical. I will argue that the position's logic not only 
demands and offers a too-often unnoticed auto-ideologikritik, 
but ends up collapsing the supposed 'specificity' and superiority 
of SF derived from it. This is not so much an argument against 
as a sublation of this tenacious generic antithesis, an apparent 
rebuke to Suvinianism reached precisely through fidelity to the 
Suvin event. 

Cognition and Possibility 

It is nothing new, of course, to point out that much of the 
supposed science in SF is precisely that - supposed. More than 
that, it is often mistaken, spurious or 'pseudo'. Nor is it new to 
raise the question of whether and how such inaccurate predicates 
disqualify a work from being SF. Remarkably, the debate in fact 
pre-exists the genre proper, and is inherited by it, as evidenced 
by Jules Verne's irritation at H.G. Wells' straight-faced flim-flam 
as compared to his own supposed scientific accuracy, and his 
sense that this excluded Wells' work from a rigorous literature of 
extrapolation. 12 This drive to disqualify can still be seen among 
some of the more unforgiving readers and writers of so-called 
'hard SF', for whom scientific inaccuracies can count more or 
less definitionally as literary flaws. 

That such fallacies are embedded in countless SF texts, and that 
this might raise theoretical questions about the nature of a genre of 
'cognitive estrangement', is clear. Caveats about the possible non- 


isomorphism of the one to the other notwithstanding, 'cognition' 
is generally conceived of in terms of, or at least intimately related 
to, a rigorous and rational - 'scientific' - relationship to material 
reality itself." This lies behind the repeated classic distinction 
that SF's worlds are 'possible', whereas fantasy's are 'impossible' 
- which itself locates the science in science fiction. 14 But, as Adam 
Roberts points out, 'several of the frequently deployed "nova" 
of SF are things that "science" has specifically ruled out of court 
as literally impossible', 15 so scientific 'possibility' cannot be the 
grounds of 'cognition' for the post-Suvinian definition to hold. 

The paradigm can, however, recover from this. '[I]t is not the 
"truth" of science that is important to SF', in Roberts' words, 'it 
is the scientific method', and it is this that is the 'cognitive logic' 
in 'cognitive estrangement'. 16 Recognising the lack of clarity on 
this point as a 'serious' problem in a paradigm to which he is 
rigorously committed, Carl Freedman goes further than any other 
writer in theorising this nuanced sense of cognition as 'cognitive 
logic' as being at the heart of SF. According to his reformulated 

cognition proper is not, in the strictest terms, exactly the quality that 
defines science fiction. What is rather at stake is what we might term ... 
the cognition effect. The crucial issue for generic discrimination is not an 
epistemological judgment external to the text itself on the rationality or 
irrationality of the latter's imaginings, but rather ... the attitude of the text 
itself to the kind of estrangements being performed. 17 

This is an ingenious move, one that is simultaneously innovative 
and a systematisation of something Hwsurprising - a certain generic 
common-sense that has allowed generations of readers and writers 
to treat, say, faster-than-light drives as science-fictional in a way 
that dragons are not, despite repeated assurances from the great 
majority of physicists that the former are no less impossible than 
the latter. 

That is not, however, the end of the story. Despite the elegance 
of this solution, it raises as many problems as it solves. With 
his focus on the attitude of 'the text itself, Freedman laudably 
attempts to retain some taxonomic rigour by evading the 


subjectivity concomitant with theories based on reader response 
or authorial intent. However, strictly speaking 'the text itself, of 
course, has no attitude to the kind of estrangements it performs, 
nor indeed to anything else. 

Taken literally, Freedman's insistence that C.S. Lewis' SF trilogy, 
starting with Out of the Silent Planet (1938), 'considers that 
principles it regards as cognitively valid cannot exclude events 
like the action fictionally portrayed from occurring within the 
author's actual environment' 18 makes little sense. Lewis' trilogy 
considers no such thing: it does nothing, in fact, but sit there. Of 
course that is not the end of the matter, because i) despite any 
such uncharitable literalism, taken in context as distinguishing 
the register of Lewis' work (here deemed science-fictional) from 
that of Tolkien (here paradigmatic of fantasy), one knows what 
Freedman means; and ii) the reason that one does so is that Lewis' 
trilogy does not in fact just sit there: it sits there in its having- 
been-written-ness, and its being-read-ness. 

In other words, our fidelity to Freedman's own fidelity to Suvin 
necessarily, in its very focus on the text itself, involves not just a 
reminder of but a necessary theoretical engagement with the fact 
that the text does not exist in an a-sociological vacuum. Though 
they certainly cannot be reduced to intent or opinion, and must be 
considered in terms of social structure and mediation, questions 
of human social agency vis-a-vis and relations to the text are 
inevitable and central. 

On this basis, the question, then, becomes, whose cognition 
effect? More pertinently, whose cognition? And whose effect? 

Doing Things With Words 

This reformulated approach to the specificity of SF, in terms of 
a written-and-read text, means considering SF not in terms of a 
text's relationship to its own supposed 'cognitive logic' but as 
something done with language by someone to someone. 

This implication of our re-socialised conception of the shift 
from cognition to 'cognition effect' is again not a new insight, but 
has in various articulations been a common-sense understanding 


since at least Wells, who conceived of his task as a writer of 
'fantastic stories' as being 'to help the reader to play the game 
properly', and to 'domesticate the impossible hypothesis' with 
'some plausible assumption'." 

It was the potential incommensurability of the text's 'cognition' 
and reality that led Freedman to his formulation of the cognition 
effect. However, Wells sees his job not as convincing anyone of a 
spurious claim but of helping 'domesticate' an impossibility: this 
cheerful and perspicacious admission makes clear that within 
these texts, not only the 'cognition' but the 'cognition effect' too 
is radically contingent to any actually accurate facticity. Of course 
that effect may be derived from empirical reality and rigorous 
and rational science: but it is vital to insist, as Wells does, on the 
potentially absolute discontinuity between the two, on the fact 
that the effect is the result of a strategy, or a game, played by writer 
and, often, reader, based not on reality-claims but plausibility- 
claims that hold purely within the text. 

Descriptively, this is perfectly obvious, and regularly noted; but 
its radical implications for the theory of the cognition effect have 
not been sufficiently remarked. It forces the theorist away from the 
comforting implication that the 'attitude of the text itself, to put it 
in Freedman's terms, is necessarily one of good faith. It is perhaps 
an implicit hankering for such clear-cut cases that lies behind the 
common focus in the literature on texts predicated on science 
that is seemingly accurate but that has later been disproved, and 
behind a certain conceptual privileging of that category over, or 
its elision with, SF built instead on deliberate falsehoods. 

Roberts, for example, considers those '[m]any early SF novels 
[that] followed the scientific thinking of the day' to argue that 
the later overturning of those nostrums 'does not invalidate these 
novels because the point about the science in SF is not "truth" but 
the entry into a particular material and often rational discourse'. 20 
Even if one agrees, it is a somewhat weak argument that SF is 
not predicated on scientific 'truth' that starts with those texts that 
were predicated on what was held to be true. Scientific accuracy 
as a conceptual foundation of SF here sneaks back in even as it 
is dismissed. 


Freedman explicitly insists that 'overwhelmingly' SF is a 
'genuinely cognitive literature', 21 but it is telling that, even 
discussing the harder cases where it appears not so to be, he stacks 
the deck. For example, he recalls that Isaac Asimov humorously 
refused to change his story 'The Dying Night' (1956), which 
was predicated on 'common astronomical wisdom at the time 
of the story's composition' that was later disproved, to 'suit the 
"whims" of astronomers'. 22 Freedman rightly insists that this 
in no way undermines the cognition effect - indeed, that the 
astronomical facts had 'nothing to do' with it. 23 However, it is 
rather startling that his admission of the necessity of the disag- 
gregation of cognition and cognition effect comes in a discussion 
of a text for which the cognition effect was in fact a corollary of 
actual cognition - just one that was later revised as erroneous. 

The case of SF constructed on 'some plausible assumption' that 
is always known by the writer (and very possibly the reader) to be 
untrue is, contrary to Freedman's assertion, extremely common. 
Indeed, to Wells it is foundational to the genre. It is also far 
more theoretically troublesome. The theorist might simply dismiss 
such work from the genre, but not only would that delineate an 
extraordinarily depleted field (no Wells!), but, having done so, it 
would reduce theory to the job of a mere border guard. Mindful 
that there are always taxonomic grey areas, it seems sensible, in 
constructing a theory of SF, to have it be a theory of actually- 
existing SF, rather than of some tautologous ideal-type. 

Following Wells, the question then arises: If cognition and 
the cognition effect are sometimes radically discontinuous, then 
what is the source of that cognition effect? Definitionally, it is not 
cognitive logic. One must insist on this: pace Freedman, even if, 
in a particular case, a particular set of cognition-effect-producing 
claims are 'cognitive' and accurate, the cognition effect tout court 
is a category existentially necessary precisely because it is not 
reducible to a logic derived from cognition. What is more, the 
cognition effect is a category shared across the spectrum of SF, 
from works based on the scientifically correct, through those 
based on the believed-but-mistaken, to those based on the wildly 


spurious. The effect's fundamental driver cannot be cognitive 
logic itself. 

Having split the cognition effect from cognition and its logic, 
we must add to the formulation of SF as something done with 
language by someone(s) to someone(s) the question how ? Again, 
the answer has been known for decades. 

Wells, in his rather scandalous defence of invented science, 
has it that the writer 'must trick [the reader] into an unwary 
concession ... and get on with his story while the illusion holds'. 24 
The method, then, is a trickery effected by the author - or, if it is 
preferred, author-function - through the text. In SF sensu stricto, 
an apparently cognitively logical and rigorous 'scientific' register is 
invaluable to this; but, crucially, that register is already mediated 
and is not the source of the cognition effect. 

As Gwyneth Jones points out, for SF, what is necessary is not 
accuracy but 'appearance of command over the language of 
science'." The emphasis within her formulation, however, best 
lies elsewhere: SF relies above all not on the language of science, 
nor on the command of that language, but on the appearance of 
that command. 

The cognition effect is a persuasion. Whatever tools are used 
for that persuasion (which may or may not include actually- 
cognitively-logical claims), the effect, by the testimony of SF 
writers for generations and by the logic of the very theorists for 
whom cognition is key, is a function of (textual) charismatic 
authority. The reader surrenders to the cognition effect to the 
extent that he or she surrenders to the authority of the text and 
its author function. 

This persuasion, even though 'trickery', is doubtless generally 
ludic on both sides. Indeed, an awareness of that game-like nature 
of the interaction can take us a step beyond even a new clarity as to 
how 'pseudo-science' known to be such by the author can still be SF 
in a meaningful fashion: now, by focusing on consensual authority, 
we can see how the cognition effect can inhere where the reader, 
too, knows that the 'cognitive' claims made are specious. 

Nor is this a marginal concern for SF. Wells' is not a theory 
of SF as hoodwinking: it is extremely unlikely that many of his 


readers would ever have been convinced of the possibility of 
gravity-repellent cavorite, 26 but because of the particular kind 
of authority in the text, a cognition effect is created even though 
neither writer nor reader finds cognitive logic in the text's claims. 
Instead, they read/write as if they do. 

This understanding makes sense also of how the presence of the 
even more preposterous pseudo-science of, say, 1950s B-movie 
SF does not disqualify a text from membership of the SF genre- 
cluster. Indeed, there is nothing so specious that a reader may not 
be persuaded to surrender to it as-if cognitively - which, though 
it is not the same as believing it, pretends that it is. 

There is an experienced bundle of understandings about what 
it is that makes some texts SF rather than fantasy - a generic folk- 
understanding. Given that how that specificity is perceived is part 
of whatever quiddity that specificity has, any attempt to theorise 
actually-existing SF has to take those understandings seriously. 
There is little doubt that the Freedman/Suvin theory is accurate in 
asserting that, for that folk-understanding of SF-not-fantasy, SF- 
ness is a function of the cognition effect - an embedded relation in 
the text between cognition and the reality function. However, any 
claim that the effect is a function of embedded cognitive rational 
rigour is untrue. To the extent that the cognition effect is about 
cognition, it is precisely about it, about a putatively logical way 
of thinking, not a function of it. And inasmuch as the experienced 
effect is in fact a function of authority, the 'cognition effect', in 
deriving supposed cognitive logic from external authority, is not 
only fundamentally a-rational but also intensely ideological. 

The Degradation of Science 

The cognition effect - a term which grows more sinister the more 
the phenomenon is critically interrogated - surrenders the terrain of 
supposed conceptual logic and rigour to the whims and diktats of a 
cadre of 'expert' author-functions. This is a translation into meta- 
literary and aggrandising terms of the very layer of technocrats 
often envisaged in SF and its cultures as society's best hope. This 
fond fantasy of a middlebrow-utopian bureaucracy - what Wells 


called Samurai - is a vaguely Fabian sociological articulation of 
the traditional SF hero, the engineer? 1 deploying narrowly (and 
ideologically) conceived instrumental rationality, often in the form 
of applied science, to the bettering of the world. In light of this, 
and of the uncomfortably patrician and anti-democratic class 
politics of which this tendency was and is an expression, Suvin's 
passing claim that the fictional 'novum' operates by 'hegemony' 28 
is invested with rather unhappy connotations. 

There is no call to be po-faced about this: ideological this 
'suspension of disbelief may be, but as a literary-level 'consensual' 
surrender, it is inextricable from enjoyment of the genre, and 
strictly in and of itself at the level of form (i.e. irrespective of the 
concrete ideologies of specific texts) inherent genocidal apology or 
the maintenance of capitalism it is not. Nor, however, is it innocent 
- not even of all relation to those most extreme articulations of 
modern barbarity. 29 

As this immanent ideologikritik of SF and of the Suvinian 
paradigm - derived, to reiterate, not in opposition but fidelity 
to that paradigm - reminds us, these structuring levels of textual 
ideology at the level of SF-as-form (which go beyond those specific 
to a text's content) include this surrender of cognition to authority. 
There is also, and derived from this, the level of the ideology of 
the theory: the Suvinian-Freedmanite paradigm itself. 

Even before any dialectical negation of the so-called 'cognitive 
logic' central to the model, the constant and explicit privileging of 
SF over fantasy is based on the supposedly self-evident grounds 
of that 'cognitive logic'. Here, a peculiar nostalgia is clear. As the 
link to the Edisonian engineer above is intended to illustrate, this 
supposed logic is repeatedly, if not explicitly, related to a strangely 
prelapsarian, often instrumentalised, science and bureaucratic 
rationality. To the extent that SF claims to be based on 'science', 
and indeed on what is deemed 'rationality', it is based on capitalist 
modernity's ideologically projected self-justification: not some 
abstract/ideal 'science', but capitalist science's bullshit about 
itself. This is not, of course, to argue in favour of some (perhaps 
lumpen-postmodernist) irrationalism, but that the 'rationalism' 
that capitalism has traditionally had on offer is highly partial and 


ideological - 'could not', as Suvin himself has put it, 'but give 
reason a bad name'. 30 The desire is for a richer, socially embedded 
rationality, which would not be a degraded embarrassment. 

In the aftermaths of two world wars and a holocaust which 
saw 'hard' and social science harnessed to mass industrial 
slaughter - an epoch which unsurprisingly shattered the bourgeois 
reformist daydreams of ineluctable progress-through-rationality 
- and following the aesthetic upheavals of the radical modernisms 
(including their pulp-fantastic wings) that were born out of a 
repudiation of that species of capitalist-comprador rationalism 
that was all that had been officially on offer, one might expect 
Marxist theory, which has for several generations drawn out 
these connections, to exhibit a certain caution about claims of 
the self-evident progressiveness of self-styled rationalism. One 
might consider, with apologies for the thickets of scare-quotes 
to stress the point, that the model of a 'scientific rationality' that 
is 'progressive' in opposition to 'reactionary' 'irrationalism' is, 
generously, roughly nine decades out of date - a bad joke after 
World War I, let alone after the death camps. Yet this model is 
at the heart of the grundnorm of mainstream Marxist theory 
of SF. Astonishingly, as I have argued, it has been so in full 
knowledge that the claims about 'cognitive logic' are specious, 
as when Jameson explicitly privileges SF Utopias over 'generic 
fantasy' on the grounds of the gravity granted by the former's 
'scientific pretensions' '. 31 

In fact, this simultaneous adoption by the genre's writers, 
readers and theorists of SF's self-declared 'rationalist' agenda, and 
their clear-sightedness about the spuriousness of its predicates, is 
an important reminder of the fact that the purchase of ideology, in 
all spheres, is dependent on the persuasive power not of its specific 
and explicit truth-claims, but of the ideological project as a self- 
sustaining totality. The lies of ideology, in other words, do not 
necessarily do their job by being believed, but by hegemonising a 
conceptual agenda irrespective of whether they are believed. 32 

In ideology, charisma and authority become autotelic - that 
is their point. In mediated microcosm, this is how SF can easily 


and with some justification end up being defined as that which is 
written by an SF writer. 

Specificity Contra Specificity 

This immanent reformulation should act to puncture the science- 
fictional scorn at fantasy, and the still-prevalent sense among 
Marxist SF critics that fantasy, the projected Other of a supposedly 
rationalist SF, is intrinsically, in its literary form, 'theoretically 
illegitimate'. 33 If SF itself is at the level of form ideology, the 
contrast no longer has teeth. 

This is not, it should but perhaps does not go without saying, to 
suggest a simple inversion of the traditional Marxist hierarchy of 
SF and fantasy. It might, for example, be tempting and excitingly 
flattering to analogise from the model above that SF operates as 
a corralling of the Utopian spirit by a secular literary priesthood, 
whereas fantasy - for which no such ideological and constraining 
cognition effect inheres, and through which therefore the reader 
experiences an unmediated relation to the radical estrangement 
- mimics the radical democratisation of vision effected by 
ecstatic sects, for which the repudiation of a priestly caste was 
an emancipatory act. 

It might be tempting, but it would be utterly ridiculous. For 
one thing, as certain wings of fantastic fiction (especially classic 
'weird fiction') illustrate well, whatever the radicalism of actual 
ecstatic sects in their revolutionary periods, the structuring of 
literature around an unmediated numinous is often not merely 
reactionary but crypto- or even openly fascist. 34 

The idea that, because SF is deep-structured by an ideological 
conception of the world, fantasy is less so, is foolish. The claim 
that fantasy is in some systematic way resistant to ideology or 
rebellious against authority is, as anyone who knows the genre 
can attest, laugh-out-loud funny. 

Apart from anything else, it is of course not in fact the case 
that, for fantasy, the estrangement, radical or otherwise, is 
unconstrained. In fact, precisely what distinguishes genre fantasy 
from the more freeform alienation of, say, surrealism and other 


avant-gardes is that the genre's integration of that alienation from 
reality with pulp exigency leads to its control and 'domestication' 
by the logic of narrative. This narrative logic, while perhaps in 
various ways enabling, and endlessly celebrated in mainstream 
culture and even by radical critics," is also without question both 
constraining and ideological. Considered thus, the ideology of the 
cognition effect is but one particular organising principle behind 
that structurating temporo-moral ideology of narrative itself, 
which demands further critical investigation. 

Fantasy, then, in its form as well as its many contents, is no less 
an ideological product than SF is. However, nor is it more so. 

In recent years there has been a creeping Marxist rapprochement 
with fantasy, and concomitant new approaches to the sub-genre's 
specifics.' 6 It is beyond the remit of this intervention to examine 
these, or indeed fantasy itself, in any detail. Two things, however, 
are clear. 

One is that, at the sociological level of production and 
consumption, the distinction between SF and fantasy continues 
to be pertinent, and that there are specificities to the fantastic, as 
well as to the science-fictional, side of the dyad (the deployment of 
magic, most obviously), which theory would do well to investigate 
further. It is perfectly plausible, then, that SF and fantasy might still 
sometimes be usefully distinguished: but if so, it is not on the basis 
of cognition, nor of some fundamental epistemological firewall, 
but as different ideological iterations of the 'estrangement' that, 
even in high Suvinianism, both sub-genres share. 

The specifics of that estrangement need unpicking. One 
potential pitfall of the focus among Marxists on the sub- 
sub-genre of Utopian fiction, the sense that the fundamental 
differentia specifica of fantastic fiction, and certainly what gives 
it any political teeth, is a utopia-function (which can easily, of 
course, encompass dystopias), is an implicit, sometimes explicit, 
claim that non-utopian SF and fantasy are in some way at best 
attenuated Utopias. But we should not be seduced by the long 
and honourable tradition of left Utopias and Utopian studies into 
foreclosing the reverse possibility (which better serves the project 
of theorising actually-existing SF and fantasy, rather than ring- 


fencing segments of the fields): that Utopias (including dystopias) 
are, rather, specific articulations of alterity, and that it is of that 
that SF/fantasy is the literature. In this model, the atom of SF's and 
fantasy's estrangement, in other words, is their unreality function, 
of which Utopia is but one - if highly important - form. 

Taking alterity as a starting point might allow us to trace 
structural relations between fantastic genres and the anti-realist 
avant-garde. It might also allow a revisiting with critical rigour 
of a traditional - and traditionally denigrated as woolly and 
anti-theoretical - notion of the 'sense of wonder', as intrinsic to 
the field. 37 

Of course this is highly tentative. Whatever we deem the 
irreducible unit of fantastic estrangement to be, and wherever 
that might lead us theoretically, all of this underlines a second 
point. At the same sociological level at which SF and fantasy 
continue to be distinguished, the boundaries between them also 
- if anything at an accelerating pace - continue to erode. Where 
that has hitherto been seen as pathological in SF theory, it is to 
be hoped that, by undermining the supposedly radical distinction 
between the two on the basis of cognition, that erosion can now 
be seen as perfectly legitimate. 

One could go further. It might be claimed that the continual 
efforts to parcel out a separate realm of estranging fiction corralled 
by a nostalgic, neo-Fabian and ideological conception of legitimate 
and illegitimate modes of cognition has been a stunting factor in 
the development of a radical, aesthetically estranging and narrato- 
logically rigorous literature of literalised metaphor and alterity. 

Of course that might be hogwash. Or, trivially and most likely, 
both the boundaries and their breaching might continue both to 
enable and constrain creativity and innovation in fantastic fiction. 
At the very least, however, it is to be hoped that the theoretical 
focus might shift from the conventional but epiphenomenal 
distinctions that have long been deemed definitional to the field, to 
the fundamental alterity-as-estrangement shared across the field: 
what it does; how it does it; and what we might do with it. For 
that, Marxist theory needs to continue its thaw towards fantasy 


It may be too early to effect that thaw by the insistence on 
a shared generic substance with SF. Even if, as I hold, this 
claim is accurate, it is perhaps strategically inadequate. Here 
I have attempted to undermine the supposed specificity of SF 
by respecting and interrogating that specificity. A mirror-image 
operation might work, too. To blur the boundaries further, it 
might be efficacious to respect the unstable specifics - but specifics 
nonetheless - of that contingently bundled sub-genre, 'fantasy'. 
Precisely to continue the project of theorising a conjoined SF and 
fantasy, in other words, SF, with its tendency to hegemonise the 
conversation, might have to be temporarily excluded. 

Red Planets we have. We should not neglect the red dragons. 


1. Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics 
and History of a Literary Genre (New Haven: Yale University Press, 
1979), p. 8. 

2. Ibid., p. 9. 

3. Ibid., p. 69. 

4. Ibid., p. 9. 

5. Horst Pukallus, 'An Interview with Darko Suvin', Science fiction 
Studies 18: 2 (1991), available at 
suvin54.htm (accessed 17 July 2008). 

6. Darko Suvin, 'Considering the Sense of "Fantasy" or "Fantastic 
Fiction": An Effusion', Extrapolation 41: 3 (2000), p. 211. This 
fascinating, fecund and infuriating constellation of insights and 
questionable extrapolations deserves an extended and dedicated 
engagement that is beyond my scope here. 

7. The two are still constitutively opposed, and there are still 'more 
obstacles to liberating cognition' in fantasy (Suvin, 'Considering the 
Sense of "Fantasy"', p. 211). 

8. Suvin, 'Considering the Sense of "Fantasy"', p. 210. 

9. Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called 
Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London: Verso, 2006), pp. 57, 
60. Christopher Kendrick (personal communication) points out that 
'though Jameson does endorse the Suvin thesis, his actual position 
on the fantasy question is different from Suvin's. Jameson basically 
casts fantasy as backward in relation to SF because it "goes back 
to" romance, and so tends to "believe in" good and evil, or in other 
words to be ethical; SF, on the other hand, he associates with a "mode 


of production aesthetic", which is presumably economic-political 
rather than ethical in basic orientation.' While Jameson's position is 
closely related to Suvin's, Kendrick speculates that, to the extent that 
it is to be equated with it, it is perhaps 'as an attempt to rationalise 
what in Suvin tends to appear as prejudice'. This extremely intriguing 
formulation demands further investigation. 

10. Carl Freedman, Critical Theory and Science Fiction (Hanover: 
Wesleyan University Press, 2000), p. 43. 

1 1 . For example, John Newsinger, 'Fantasy and Revolution: An Interview 
with China Mieville', International Socialism 88 (2000), available 

12. See China Mieville, 'Introduction' to H.G. Wells, First Men in the 
Moon (London: Penguin, 2005). 

13. Quite how evasive a term 'cognition' is is something few of its 
deployers engage with sufficiently. In his reconsideration of fantasy, 
Suvin states that 'cognition is much richer than, and in some ways 
even opposed to, scientific rationalism' (Suvin, 'Considering', p. 239). 
However, this suggestive qualification is not fleshed out, the model(s) 
of 'cognition' rather nebulously emerging as a function of whether it 
'include[s] people' rather than being dominated by abstractions (p. 
239), is narratively coherent with 'richness of figures' (p. 240) and 
is 'pleasantly useful' (p. 211). Alongside these intriguing fragments 
of an alternative theory of (what is increasingly unhelpful to term) 
cognition, however, sits the traditional underlying claim that 'the 
epistemology of SF can appeal to the cognitive universalism of natural 
and/or social laws' as opposed to the 'occultism, whimsy or magic' 
models of fantasy (p. 238). This puts Suvin back in accord with his 
earlier self, for whom SF takes a fictional hypothesis 'and develops 
it with extrapolating and totalizing "scientific" rigor' (Darko Suvin, 
'On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre', College English 34: 3 
(1972), p. 374). 

14. See for example Suvin's own mention of the fairytale as escaping the 
empirical world 'into a closed collateral world indifferent toward 
cognitive possibilities' as part of his very definition of 'cognition', 
and his argument that '[ajnything is possible in a folktale, because a 
folktale is manifestly impossible' {Metamorphoses, pp. 6-8). Robert 
Conquest goes so far as to suggest that science fiction is not the 
best name for the field, and that '"Possibility Fiction" might have 
been better' (Robert Conquest, 'Science Fiction and Literature', The 
Critical Quarterly V: iv (1963), p. 358). 

15. Adam Roberts, Science Fiction (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 8. 

16. Ibid., p. 10. 

17. Freedman, Critical Theory, p. 18; emphases in original. 


18. Ibid., p. 18. 

19. Cited in Mieville, 'Introduction', p. xvii. 

20. Roberts, Science Fiction, p. 9. 

21. Freedman, Critical Theory, p. 19. 

22. Ibid., p. 18. 

23. Ibid., p. 18. 

24. Cited in Mieville, 'Introduction', p. xvii. 

25. Gwyneth Jones, Deconstructing the Starships: Science, Fiction 
and Reality (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999), p. 16; 
emphasis in original. 

26. Indeed, that they would not is, according to Lewis, 'a merit not a 
defect', central to the text's success. C.S Lewis, 'On Science Fiction', 
in Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories (London: Harcourt, 1967), 
p. 64. 

27. See Roger Luckhurst, Science Fiction (Cambridge: Polity, 2005). 

28. Suvin, Metamorphoses, p. 63. 

29. See John Rieder, Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction 
(Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2008). 

30. Suvin, 'Considering the Sense of "Fantasy"', p. 214. This extended 
critique of 'impoverished pseudo-rationality' is one of the best sections 
of Suvin's 'effusion', though one of which the full implications are 
not fully fleshed out. 

31. Jameson, Archaeologies, p. 57; my emphasis. 

32. I have argued this in 'The Lies that aren't Meant to Deceive Us', available 

33. Freedman, Critical Theory, p. 17. 

34. This argument is developed in China Mieville, 'Weird Fiction', in 
Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts and Sherryl Vint, eds, 
The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction (London: Routledge, 

35. According to Suvin, 'storytelling is a privileged cognitive method' 
and '[i]n my pantheon, narrative ... is one of the Supreme Goods' 
('Considering the Sense of "Fantasy"', p. 233). 

36. For the most important recent revisionist Marxist position, see Mark 
Bould, 'The Dreadful Credibility of Absurd Things: A Tendency in 
Fantasy Theory', Historical Materialism 10: 4 (2002), pp. 51-88. 

37. The most productive avenues for research on this basis are probably 
those that relate the 'sensawunna' (as it has been derisively rendered) 
via the conceptual shift occasioned by its problematic of discordant 
scale, as John Clute has argued, to the tradition of the sublime 
(and perhaps, and perhaps concomitantly, with traditions of - often 
religious - ecstatic and visionary writing). Scale is an invaluable 
optic, predicated as it is on the uneasy familiarity of supposed 


radical strangeness, rather than any truly fundamental break with 
any known. This is a topological translation of something I would 
consider key to the 'wonder* in the 'sense of wonder': precisely the 
necessary failure of alterity, the inevitable stains and traces of the 
everyday in whatever can be thought from within it, including its 
estranged/estranging other. Without such guilty stains, there could 
be no recognition or reception - true alterity would be inconceivable, 
thus imperceptible. We gasp not just at the strangeness but at the 
misplaced familiar within it. Class analysis here might include, among 
other projects: conceiving the {always-already failing) fantastic as a 
combined and uneven development of a conceived totality as reality 
and its rebuke; articulating the sublime and numinous as a misspoken 
emancipatory telos; a Benjaminian/Beckettian attempt to fail better 
and better at thinking an unthinkable. 


Left SF: Selected and Annotated, If Not Always Exactly 
Recommended, Works 


These lists of recommended reading and viewing take a deliberately broad 
view of what constitutes left SF. Not all of the authors and directors listed 
below would call themselves leftists, and some works are not so much 
leftist as of interest to leftists. None are completely unproblematic and 
some are not very good at all. 

1. Reading 

Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975). Eco-saboteurs take 
on colluding business and government. Sequel: Hayduke Lives! (1990). 
See also Good Times (1980). 

Abe Kobo, Inter Ice Age 4 (1959). The most overtly science-fictional 
of Abe's absurdist explorations of contemporary alienation. See also 
Woman in the Dunes ( 1 962), The Face of Another ( 1 964), The Ruined 
Map (1967), The Box Man (1973), The Ark Sakura (1984), Beyond 
the Curve (1991), The Kangaroo Notebook (1991). 

Chingiz Aitmatov, The Day Lasts Longer than a Hundred Years (1980). 
Surprisingly uncensored mediation of Central Asian tradition, Soviet 
modernity and the possibilities presented by an alien world. 

Brian Aldiss, HARM (2007). A British muslim author, imprisoned and 
tortured for making a joke, hallucinates another - very resonant 
- world. 

Benjamin Appel, The Funhouse (1959). Satire on commodity-hedonism 
and nuclear anxiety. 

Eleanor Arnason, A Woman of the Iron People (1991). Post-revolutionary 
humans and humanoid aliens face the problems of interspecies 
communication and colonial encounter. See also To the Resurrection 
Station (1986), Ring of Swords (1993), Ordinary People (2005). 

Brian Attebery and Ursula K. Le Guin, eds, The Norton Book of Science 
Fiction (1994). Notoriously 'unrepresentative' anthology of North 
American literary and feminist SF from 1960 to 1990. 



Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale (1985). Fundamentalist dystopia 

reduces women to their reproductive function. See also The Blind 

Assassin (2000), Oryx and Crake (2003). 
Wilhelmina Baird, Crashcourse (1993). Self-reflexive post-feminist 

cyberpunk. Sequels: Clipjoint (1994), Psykosis (1995). 
J.G. Ballard, Crash (1973). Everything you need to know about sex, 

technology and commodity fetishism. See also The Atrocity Exhibition 


Iain M. Banks, Consider Phlebas (1987). Vivid space opera set in a 
(possibly) Utopian, post-scarcity future. Sequels: The Player of Games 
(1988), The Use of Weapons (1990), Excession (1996), Inversions 
(1998), Look to Windward (2000), Matter (2008). 

Max Barry, Jennifer Government (2003). Knockabout shenanigans in 
the consolidated world market. 

John Barth, Giles Goat-Boy (1966). The Cold War as allegorical campus 

John Calvin Batchelor, The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica 

(1983). A berserker on a ship of fools amid the fleet of the damned 

and the wretched of the earth. 
Robert Bateman, When the Whites Went (1963). A plague eradicates 

all non-black people. 
Barry Beckham, Runner Mack (1972). Fabular account of an attempted 

black revolution. 

Andrea L. Bell and Yolanda Molina Gavilan, eds, Cosmos Latinos: An 
Anthology of Science Fiction from Latin America and Spain (2003). 
Technoscientific empire experienced from the other side. 

Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, 2000-1887 (1888). Extremely 
popular, not-exactly socialist Utopia that prompted the eruption of 
late-nineteenth century Utopias. Sequel: Equality (1897). 

Margaret Bennett, The Long Way Back (1954). Representatives of post- 
holocaust Africa visit primitive Britain. 

J.D. Beresford, Revolution: A Story of the Near Future in England (1921). 
Curiously muted account of a British socialist revolution. See also 
Goslings (1913), 'What Dreams May Come...' (1941), A Common 
Enemy (1942), The Riddle of the Tower (1944). 

Adolfo Bioy Casares, The Invention of Morel (1940). Exploring the 
psychosexual power of the image in the age of mechanical reproduction. 
See also Asleep in the Sun (1973). 

Terry Bisson, Fire on the Mountain (1988). John Brown and Harriet 
Tubman's successful raid on Harper's Ferry leads to a global socialist 


Michael Blumlein, The Movement of Mountains (1987). A doctor 
recognises the humanity of a lab-made slave species and joins them 
in revolution. See also The Brains of Rats (1990). 

Alexander Bogdanov, The Red Star (1908, 1913). The first Bolshevik 
Utopia, featuring Martian technocracy and free love. 

Leigh Brackett, The Long Tomorrow (1955). Civil Rights-era post- 
apocalyptic critique of religious intolerance and instrumentalist 

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 4S1 (1953). Dyspeptic, nostalgic satire on 

commodity culture. 
Gerd Brantenberg, Egalia's Daughters (1977). In the land of the wim, 

masculist menwim raise consciousness among housebounds, burn their 

pehoes and organise gender revolution. 
Max Brooks, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (2006). 

The Multitude as apocalyptic globalised zombie horde. 
Rosel George Brown, Sibyl Sue Blue (1968). Interstellar adventure 

featuring a sexy, kick-ass ... middle-aged single mother. Sequel: The 

Waters of Centaurus (1970). 
John Brunner, The Sheep Look Up (1972). An overpopulated world 

drowning in its own pollution. See also Stand on Zanzibar (1968), 

The Jagged Orbit (1969), Total Eclipse (1 974), The Shockwave Rider 


Mikhail Bulgakov, Heart of a Dog (1925). Satire on NEP-era USSR. See 
also 'Diaboliad' (1925). 

Edward Bulwer Lytton, The Coming Race (1871). Hysterical vision of 
the rising proletariat. 

Katherine Burdekin, Swastika Night (1937). Dystopia set 500 years after 
Hitler's victory. See also The Rebel Passion (1929), The End of this 
Day's Business (1990). 

Octavia Butler, Kindred (1979). African-American woman pulled 
backwards in time to the antebellum plantation on which her ancestors 
slaved. See also Patternmaster (1976), Dawn (1987), The Parable of 
the Sower {1993) and their sequels. 

Eugene Byrne, ThiGMOO (1999). Virtual constructs of fictional 
characters develop (class- (consciousness and start a revolution. See 
also Back in the USSA (1997), co-written with Kim Newman. 

Pat Cadigan, Synners (1989). Brings a richer sense of human and social 
complexity to cyberpunk, mapping the relationships between street 
subcultures and corporate systems. See also Fools (1992). 

Karen Cadora, Stardust Bound (1994). Against the wishes of the post- 
apocalyptic state, women rebuild the science of astronomy. 


Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia: The Notebooks and Reports of William 
Weston (1975). West Coast ecological Utopia. Sequel: Ecotopia 
Emerging (1981). 

V.F. Calverton, The Man Inside: Being the Record of the Strange 
Adventures of Allen Steele among the Xulus (1936). Anti-fascist, anti- 
Stalinist, prematurely Althusserian genius experiments on animals and 
humans to prepare the way for post-socialist posthumanity. 

Karel Capek, War with the Newts (1936). Hilarious, bitter fantasia, 
dripping with irony, about colonial/proletarian development and 

Angela Carter, The Passion of New Eve (1977). Delirious, profane 
encounters in a US transformed by race and gender wars. See also 
Heroes and Villains (1969), The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor 
Hoffman (1972), Nights at the Circus (1984). 

Margaret Cavendish, The Blazing World (1668). Royalist, visionary- 
reactionary - but feminist - Utopia. 

Philip George Chadwick, The Death Guard (1939). Apocalyptic anti-war 
story featuring a species of artificially created brute warriors. 

Suzy McKee Charnas, Walk to the End of the World (1974). Post- 
apocalyptic women rebel in the cracks of institutionalised misogyny 
and gender essentialism. Sequels: Motherlines (1978), The Furies 
(1994), The Conquerors Child (1999). 

Flynn Connolly, The Rising of the Moon (1993). In the twenty-first 
century, a group of feminists lead a revolution against Catholic 

Edwin Corley, Siege (1969). Black revolutionaries seize Manhattan. 
Gyorgy Dalos, 1985 (1983). Post-war Hungarian history reworked as 
Orwell sequel. 

Dennis Danvers, The Fourth World (2000). Cyberpunk meets Zapatismo 
and finds another world is possible. See also The Watch (2002). 

Camilla Decarnin, Eric Garber and Lyn Paleo, eds, Worlds Apart: An 
Anthology of Lesbian and Gay Science Fiction and Fantasy (1986). 
Queer anthology. 

Allan de Graeff, ed., Human and Other Beings (1963). Collection of 
mid-century anti-racist US magazine SF (1949-61). 

Samuel Delany, Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand (1984). 
Sprawling space opera/planetary romance/neo-slave narrative, set in 
a radically decentred Galactic civilisation modelled on Derrida's notion 
of differance. See also Babel-17 (1966), The Einstein Intersection 
(1967), Nova (1968), Dhalgren (1975), Triton: An Ambiguous 
Heterotopia (1976). 

Don DeLillo, White Noise (1985). Deadpan black comedy about the 
society of the spectacle. 


Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly (1977). Atypical yet quintessential 
Dick novel about commodification and its destruction of communities 
and individuals. See also The Man in the High Castle (1962), Martian 
Time-Slip (1962), The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), Do 
Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), Ubik (1969) and five- 
volume collected short stories. 

Thomas Disch, 334 (1972). Everyday life in a twenty-first century not 
much better, not much worse than our own. See also The Genocides 
(1965), Camp Concentration (1968), Getting into Death (1973), On 
Wings of Song (1979). Disch edited the ecological anthology The 
Ruins of Earth (1973) and The New Improved Sun: An Anthology 
of Utopian Science Fiction (1975). 

Esme Dodderidge, The New Gulliver or, The Adventures of Lemuel 
Gulliver ]r in Capovolta (1979). Gulliver's descendant in a feminist 

Ignatius Donnelly, Caesar's Column (1890). Inequality and oppression 
escalate into war. See also Doctor Huguet (1891), The Golden Bottle 

Candas Jane Dorsey, Learning About Machine Sex and Other Stories 
(1988). Title story ridicules cyberpunk's inherent phallocentrism. 

W.E.B. Du Bois, Dark Princess: A Romance (1928). Messianic Hegelian 
world-historical African-American joins the Great Central Committee 
of Yellow, Brown and Black's global revolution. 

L. Timmel Duchamp, Alanya to Alanya (2005). Aliens and feminists 
intervene to save the Earth. Sequels: Renegade (2006), Tsunami 
(2007), Blood in the Fruit (2008), Stretto (2008). See also Love's Body, 
Dancing in Time (2004), The Red Rose Rages (Bleeding) (2005). 

Gordon Eklund, All Times Possible (1974). Hopeful, despairing 
alternative history of an American workers' state. 

M. Barnard Eldershaw (Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw), 
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1947; censored text 
restored, 1983). Naturalistic account of Australian life, from the 
1920s until an alternative ending of World War II, written by a future 
socialist Utopian. 

Suzette Haden Elgin, Native Tongue (1984). Reduced to childlike wards 
of their menfolk, women develop a secret language to express their 
perception of, and change, the world. Sequels: The Judas Rose (1987), 
Earthsong (1993). 

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952). Classic afrofuturist account of phan- 
tasmagoric, apocalyptic modernity and futures yet unborn. 

Roger Elwood and Virginia Kidd, eds, Saving Worlds (1973). Ecological 
SF anthology. 


David Ely, A Journal of the Flood Year (1992). The forced proletari- 
anisation of a diligent bureaucrat. 
Carol Emshwiller, Carmen Dog (1988). Animals transform into human 

women, and vice versa, challenging masculinist reason and rationality. 

See also The Mount (2002). 
Zoe Fairbairns, Benefits (1979). Follows the ebb and flow of feminist 

resistance as the backlash state introduces increasingly draconian 

'benevolent' measures. 
Russell B. Farr and Nick Evans, eds, The Workers' Paradise (2008). 

Stories about the future of work, collected in protest against Australian 

anti-worker legislation. Dedicated to 144 union activists murdered 

worldwide in 2006. 
Claude Farrere, Useless Hands ( 1 920). Worker's resistance to exploitation 

and mechanisation ends in a defeat which (unintentionally) indicts 

capitalist brutality. 
Minister Faust, The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad (2004). 

African-Canadian satire about life in the margins. See also From the 

Notebooks of Dr Brain (2007). 
Eric Flint, 1812: The Rivers of War (2005). Alternate history, resulting 

in the foundation of the Native American Confederacy of Arkansas 

by long-time left activist and Socialist Workers Party member - an 

unlikely blend of Modes-of-Production Trotskyism with militarist 

SF. Sequel: 1824: The Arkansas War (2006). See also 1632 (2000; 

numerous ongoing sequels). 
Caroline Forbes, ed., The Needle on Full: Lesbian Feminist Science 

Fiction (1985). Lesbian-feminist SF anthology. 
Katherine V. Forrest, Daughters of the Coral Dawn (1984). Blithely 

audacious comedy of interstellar colonisation and lesbian separatism. 

Sequels: Daughters of an Amber Noon (2002), Daughters of an 

Emerald Dusk (2005). 
Karen Joy Fowler, Sarah Canary ( 1 99 1 ). In the American West, a mysterious 

woman, who might be an alien, finds unlikely companions. 
Anatole France, The White Stone ( 1 905). Conte philosophique excoriating 

the barbarism of colonialism and envisioning a collectivist future. See 

also Penguin hand (1908), The Revolt of the Angels (1914). 
Sally Miller Gearheart, The Wanderground: Stories of the Hill Women 

(1980). Lesbian-feminist Utopia set after Nature has restricted men 

to the cities. 

Amitav Ghosh, The Calcutta Chromosome (1996). Postcolonial SF about 
the limits of western science. 

William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (2003). Non-SF SF novel mapping 
the commodity-image. Sequel: Spook Country (2007). See also 
Neuromancer (1984), Count Zero (1986), Mona Lisa Overdrive 


(1988), Virtual Light (1993), Idoru (1996), All Tomorrow's Parties 

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland (1914). Separatist Utopia by leading 

American feminist and socialist. Sequel: With Her in Our Land (1916). 

See also 'Moving the Mountain' (1911). 
Molly Gloss, The Dazzle of the Day (1997). From the community of an 

interstellar vessel emerges a commitment to low-impact colonisation. 

See also Wild Life (2000). 
Lisa Goldstein, The Dream Years (1985). Time-slip romance featuring 

Paris in the Surrealist 1920s and May 1968, with the future of 

revolutionary consciousness in the balance. 
Jen Green and Sarah Le Fanu, eds, Despatches from the Frontier of the 

Female Mind (1985). Feminist SF anthology. 
Sam Greenlee, The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1969). The CIA's first 

black field agent trains street gangs to form a revolutionary army. 
George Griffith, The Angel of the Revolution (1893). Airborne anarchist 

terrorists create a world government. See also Olga Romanoff 


Nicola Griffith, Slow River (1995). A wealthy, young lesbian's forced 
proletarianisation in a dark near-future. See also Ammonite (1993). 
Griffith co-edited the queer anthology Bending the Landscape: Science 
Fiction (1998). 

Sutton E. Griggs, Imperium in Imperio (1899). The rise and betrayal of 

revolutionary black secessionism. 
Emil Habibi, The Secret Life of Saeed, the Ill-Fated Pessoptimist: 

A Palestinian who Became a Citizen of Israel (1974). Candide-like 

protagonist recounts his fantastical life during the establishment of 

modern Israel. 

Joe Haldeman, The Forever War (1974). Disorientated, alienated soldiers, 
suffering from time-dilation, return to a rapidly changing Earth. 
Sequels: Forever Peace (1997), Forever Free (1999). 

Patrick Hamilton, Impromptu in Moribundia (1939). Satire on middle- 
class world-views and capital's fantasy that it, not labour, produces 

Nick Harkaway, The Gone-Away World (2008). Black comic phantas- 
magoria on military-corporate Empire. 

Jacqueline Harpman, / Who Have Never Known Men ( 1 995). Ambiguous 
feminist fable about 40 women, abducted and imprisoned underground 
for a decade, who emerge into an empty world. 

Harry Harrison, Make Room! Make Room! (1966). Classic vision of 
an overpopulated future. 


M. John Harrison, Signs of Life (1996). Machismo meets free- 
marketeering on biotech's cutting edge. See also Light (2002), Nova 
Swing (2006). 

Milo Hastings, City of Endless Night (1920). Confused, ambivalent 
anti-socialist dystopia, acutely prescient of Nazism. 

Robert A. Heinlein, For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs (2004). 
Following the failure of Upton Sinclair's EPIC campaign, on which 
he volunteered, Heinlein wrote this long-unpublished anti-racist, anti- 
clerical, nudist Utopian novel, advocating a Social Credit system with 
which to moderate capitalism. Sadly, he became an increasingly right- 
wing libertarian, wavering in the anti-racism and already problematic 
feminism of this first novel. 

Zenna Henderson, Ingathering: The Complete People Stories (1995). 
Humanoid aliens with psychic powers struggle to fit into our world. 

John Hersey, My Petition for More Space (1974). Dark comic fable 
of overpopulation. See also The Child Buyer (1960), White Lotus 

Theodor Hertzka, Freeland ( 1 890). Socialistically inclined Utopian fantasy 

in which capitalism, stripped of exploitation and competition, forms 

the basis of an ideal society. 
Chester Himes, Plan B (1983). Anguished Himes ends his hyperreal 

Harlem crime cycle with black revolution. 
Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker (1980). Linguistically inventive novel 

in which, 2000 years after the nuclear holocaust, gunpowder is 


T. Shirby Hodge (Roger Sherman Tracy), The White Man's Burden: A 
Satirical Forecast (1915). Disentimcd visitor to future African anarchist 
Utopia learns of the triumph of peoples of colour, and witnesses the 
destruction of a white American invasion. 

Cecilia Holland, Floating Worlds (1976). Ambiguously feminist, anti- 
colonialist space opera. 

Pauline Hopkins, Of One Blood (1901-03). A technologically advanced, 
ancient African civilisation is poised to retake the world. 

Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber (2000). Interplanetary colonisation, 
told in the voices of the colonised. Hopkinson co-edited So Long Been 
Dreaming: Postcolonial Visions of the Future (2004). 

William Dean Howells, A Traveler from Altruria ( 1 892-93). Visitor from 
a truly socialist, christian land exposes the contradictions between 
capitalism and democracy. Sequels: Letters of an Altrurian Traveller 
(1893-94), Through the Eye of the Needle (1907). 

W.H. Hudson, The Crystal Age (1887). Semi-matriarchal, ecological- 
pastoral Utopia. 


Julian Huxley, 'The Tissue-Culture King' (1926). Anti-colonial adventure 

about cloning, telepathy and commodity fetishism. 
Blyden Jackson, Operation Burning Candle (1973). Black revolutionaries 

plan a symbolically resonant outrage to shatter dominant ideology. 
K.W. Jeter, Noir (1998). In a future of indentured posthumous labour 

and extreme penalties for copyright infringement, a corporation might 

have perfected capitalism. 
Michel Jeury, Chronolysis (1973). Disorientated agent of an anarcho- 

socialist near-future finds himself at the centre of a conflict with 

multinational corporations trying to alter history so as to take over 

the future. 

Gwyneth Jones, White Queen (1991). Ironic green-socialist-feminist- 
postcolonial revision of the alien invasion narrative. Sequels: North 
Wind (1994), Phoenix Cafe (1997). See also Escape Plans (1986), 
Kairos (1988), Bold as Love (2001; four sequels), Life (2004). 

Anthony Joseph, The African Origins ofUFOs (2007). Afropsychedelic 
SF noir. 

William Melvin Kelley, A Different Drummer (1959). The black 

population desert a southern state. 
John Kendall, Unborn Tomorrow (1933). Young couple flee 1995's 

'unnatural' global socialist Utopia. 
Damon Knight, Hell's Pavement (1955). Madcap satire on 1950s US. 
Cyril Kornbluth, His Share of Glory (1997). Satirises militarist/consumerist 

1950s US. See also The Syndic (1953), Not This August (1955) and 

collaborations listed under Judith Merril and Frederik Pohl. 
Nancy Kress, Beggars in Spain (1993). Ostensibly about genetically 

engineered superhumans, but demonstrating the ways in which capital 

already makes us posthuman. Sequels: Beggars and Choosers (1994), 

Beggars Ride (1996). 
Larissa Lai, Salt Fish Girl (2002). Magic realist SF exploring the mar- 

ginalisation of labour, immigrants and women. 
Mary E. Bradley Lane, Mizora: A Prophecy (1880-81). High-tech, hollow 

earth, female Utopia. 
Herrmann Lang, The Air Battle: A Vision of the Future (1859). 

Technologically advanced African state fights to end the enslavement 

of whites. Not exactly anti-racist, it champions miscegenation. 
Justine Larbalestier, ed., Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in 

the Twentieth Century (2006). Feminist SF anthology. 
Alice Laurence, ed., Cassandra Rising (1978). Feminist SF anthology. 
J.M.G. Le Clezio, The Giants (1973). Poetic, mildly experimental 

jeremiad against modernity, rationalisation, consumerism and Ameri- 



Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974). 
Anarchism in a world of scarcity is compared to capitalism in a world 
of artificial scarcity as a scientist attempts to understand sequence, 
simultaneity and determinism. See also The Left Hand of Darkness 
{l969),The Wordfor World is Forest (1972), Always Coming Home 

Doris Lessing, The Memoirs of a Survivor (1974). An outsider watches 

the collapse of civilisation from her window. See also The Four-Gated 

City (1969), The Fifth Child (1988), Re: Colonised Planet 5, Shikasta 

(1979; four sequels). 
Roy Lewis, The Extraordinary Reign of King Ludd: An Historical 

Tease (1990). A century after the victorious 1848 revolution, global 

Darwinian-Malthussian Luddite guild socialism is at risk. 
Sinclair Lewis, // Can't Happen Here (1935). Always timely, if oddly 

comical, account of America's turn to fascism. 
A.M. Lightner, The Day of the Drones (1969). African expedition 

discovers the remnants of white civilisation. 
Anna Livia, Bulldozer Rising (1988). A group of older women plot 

survival in a future predicated on youthfulness. 
Alun Llewellyn, The Strange Invaders (1933). A post-apocalyptic, 

USSR-derived feudal theocracy is challenged by the migration of giant 


Jack London, The Iron Heel (1907). Bloody revolution against a capitalist 

oligarchy. See also 'A Curious Fragment' (1908), 'Goliah' (1908), 'The 

Dream of Debs' (1909), 'The Red One' (1918). 
Simon Louvish, Resurrections From the Dustbin of History: A Political 

Fantasy (1992). Fifty years after Luxemburg and Liebknecht founded 

the Socialist German State, Hitler's grandson is a heartbeat away from 

the US presidency. 
Ian McDonald, Sacrifice of Fools (1996). Aliens settle in Belfast in the 

midst of future Troubles. See also Desolation Road (1988), Necroville 

(1994), Chaga (1995), Kirinya (1988), Tendeleo's Story (2000), River 

of Gods (2004), Brasyl (2007). 
Maureen F. McHugh, China Mountain Zhang (1992). Everyday life in a 

not-too-distant future dominated by Communist China. 
Vonda Mclntyre, Dreamsnake ( 1 978). Post-apocalyptic feminist SF about 

sexuality, gender and healing, as well as power and its abuses. 
Ken MacLeod, The Execution Channel (2007). The war on terror rolls 

on into a grim (alternative) future. See also The Star Fraction (1995; 

four sequels). 

Barry Malzberg, Galaxies (1975). Bitter commentary on writing for US 
SF markets, presented as notes towards an unfinished novel. See also 
Screen (1968), The Falling Astronauts (1971), Revelations (1972), 


Beyond Apollo (1972), Overlay (1972), Herovit's World (1973), 
Scop (1976), Cross of Fire (1982), The Remaking ofSigmund Freud 

Andrew Marvell, Minimum Man (1938). Overthrowing a fascist state 

depends upon the cooperation of posthuman midgets (another 

ambivalently self-conscious proletariat). 
Lisa Mason, Summer of Love (1994). A time-traveller returns to 1967 

San Francisco to preserve the future, only to learn that history is 

contingent and potential. 
Vladimir Mayakovsky, The Bedbug (1929). Satirical play in which a 

Soviet bureaucrat is kept in a zoo. 
Shepherd Mead, The Big Ball of Wax (1954). Near-future anti-corporate 


Farah Mendlesohn, ed., Glorifying Terrorism (2006). Collection 
published in contravention of the UK's draconian, Kafka-esque 2006 
Terrorism Act. 

Judith Merril, Homecoming and Other Stories (2005). Short fiction 
developing traditional SF materials from a broadly feminist, 
Trotskyist-inflected angle. See also Shadow on the Hearth (1950) 
and her collaborations with Cyril M. Kornbluth: Outpost Mars 
( 1 952), Gunner Cade ( 1 952). Merril edited Year's Best SF anthologies 
(1956-68) and England Swings SF (1968), which played a key role 
in the New Wave. 

China Mieville, Iron Council (2004). Revolution comes to New Crobuzon, 
ending with a remarkable image of revolutionary potential. Follows 
Perdido Street Station (2000) and The Scar (2002). 

Warren Miller, The Siege of Harlem (1964). A veteran recounts the 
Harlem secession to his grandchildren. 

Misha, Red Spider White Web (1990). Grim cyberpunk about art and 

Adrian Mitchell, The Bodyguard (1970). In totalitarian Britain, an 
elite bodyguard recounts his life, unaware of the revolution going 
on around him. 

J. Leslie Mitchell, Gay Hunter (1934). Flung into a post-apocalyptic 
pastoral Britain, the eponymous heroine fights the re-emergence of 
'civilisation' (i.e. the imposition of a class system by technocratic 

Naomi Mitchison, Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962). Delightful 
adventures in embracing otherness. See also We Have Been Warned 

Judith Moffett, The Ragged World (1991). Aliens force humans to save 
Earth from ecocatastophe, regardless of the cost. Sequels: Time, Like 


art Ever-Rolling Stream (1992), The Bird Shaman (2008). See also 
Pennterra (1987). 

Michael Moorcock, Behold the Man (1969). Deliciously blasphemous 
time-travel story. See also Breakfast in the Ruins (1972), The Final 
Programme (1968; three sequels), The Black Corridor (1969), The 
Warlord of the Air (1971; two sequels). Moorcock was the driving 
editorial force behind the New Wave - see New Worlds: An Anthology 

Alan Moore, V for Vendetta (1982-88). An anarchist takes on British 
totalitarianism. See also Watchmen (1986-87), The League of 
Extraordinary Gentlemen (1999- ). 

Robert Morales and Kyle Baker, Truth: Red, White and Black (2002). 
Reworked Captain America origin story in which the 'supersoldier' 
experiments were conducted on African-Americans. 

Julian Moreau, The Black Commandos (1967). Super-scientific 
black super-warriors, complete with flying saucers, crush white 

William Morris, News from Nowhere (1890). Socialist Utopia without 
distinctions between work, life and art. 

Grant Morrison, The Invisibles (1994-2000). The Invisible College 
oppose the Archons of the Outer Church, aliens who have enslaved 
humanity. See also Zenith (1987-92), Animal Man (1988-90), St 
Swithin's Day ( 1 989), Doom Patrol ( 1 989-92), Big Dave ( 1 993-94), 
Flex Mentallo (1996), The Filth (2002-03) and We3 (2004). 

Walter Mosley, Blue Light (1998). A cosmic light hits mid-1960s San 
Francisco, prompting a peculiar apocalyptic story about race, sex, 
identity, death, transformation and possibility. See also Futureland: 
Nine Stories of an Imminent Future (2001). 

Pat Murphy, 'Rachel in Love' (1987). Intelligence-boosted chimpanzee 
flees the patriarchal technoscientific institution which created her. See 
also The City, Not Long After (1988). 

Alice Nunn, Illicit Passage (1992). In a besieged, class-ridden space 
colony, women foment revolution unseen. 

Barbara O'Brien, Operators and Things (1958). Satire on corporations, 
patriarchy and alienation, published as a schizophrenic's auto- 

E.V. Odle, The Clockwork Man (1923). Comic encounter with a future 
of mechanism, dialectically conceived as hopeful and terrible. 

Joseph O'Neill, Land Under England (1935). Anti-Nazi subterranean 
adventure about a totalitarian society of people reduced to mindless 
automata. See also Day of Wrath (1936). 


Rebecca Ore, Gaia's Toys (1995). Underground eco-warriors genetically 
engineer Earth's survival. See also Becoming Alien (1988; two sequels), 
The Illegal Rebirth of Billy the Kid (1991), Slow Funeral (1994). 

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Renowned anti-Stalinist 

Jane Palmer, The Planet Dweller (1985). Menopausal single mother 

ditches tranquillisers for interstellar adventures. 
Severna Park, Hand of Prophecy (1998). Lesbian-feminist post-colonial 

space opera. 

Olivier Pauvert, Noir (2005). In near-future fascist France, a killer returns 
to life to solve a murder he has no memory of committing. 

Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time (1976). Drawn across time 
to a Utopian future, impoverished, institutionalised Connie Ramos 
must fight in the present to ensure it emerges. See also He, She, and 

Doris Piserchia, Star Rider (1974). Interstellar adventure proves far more 
enticing than marriage and motherhood. 

Frederik Pohl, 'The Midas Plague' (1954) and 'The Tunnel Under the 
World' (1954). Among the very best 1950s SF satires. See also col- 
laborations with Cyril M. Kornbluth: The Space Merchants (1953), 
Search the Sky (1954), Gladiator-at-Law (1955), Wolfbane (1957). 

Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo (1972). Monotheism, white supremacism 
and order vs jazz and liberation. See also Flight to Canada (1976). 

Kit Reed, Weird Women, Wired Women (1998). Collects stories (1958- 
97) charting patriarchy's demands upon post-war (white, middle-class) 
American women. 

Mack Reynolds, Looking Backward, From the Year 2000 (1973). 
Socialist Labor Party supporter Reynolds wrote prolifically for the 
often right-wing US SF magazines; here, inspired by Bellamy, he 
imagines a post-scarcity future en route to a Utopia it knows is defi- 
nitionally unattainable. Sequel: Equality: In the Year 2000 (1977). 
See also Black Man's Burden (1972; two sequels), Commune 2000 
A.D. (1974; two sequels), Satellite City (1975), After Utopia (1977), 
Perchance to Dream (1977), Lagrange Five (1979; two sequels). 

Adam Roberts, Salt (2000). Conflict between totalitarian and anarchistic 
colonisers. See also Stone (2002), Polystom (2003), The Snow (2004), 
Gradisil (2006), Slowly (2008). 

Albert Robida, The Twentieth Century (1881). Postmodern capital, 
simulacral architecture and the thematisation of daily life are among 
the many anticipations in this unexpectedly (if problematically) 
feminist vision of future Paris. 

Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars (1992), Green Mars (1993), Blue Mars 
(1995). Monumental trilogy charting the tensions between red and 


green politics as Mars is terraformed into a Utopian homeworld. See 
also The Wild Shore (1984; two sequels), Antarctica (1997), The Years 
of Rice and Salt (2002), Forty Signs of Rain (2004; two sequels). 
Robinson edited the ecological anthology, Future Primitives: The New 
Ecotopias (1994). 
Spider Robinson, Night of Power (1985). Black Power revolutionaries 
take New York. 

Mordecai Roshwald, Level 7 (1959). Grim tale of 'surviving' a nuclear 

war. See also A Small Armageddon (1962). 
Joanna Russ, The Female Man (1975). Key work of feminist SF blends 

aesthetic and political radicalism. See also We Who Are About To... 

(1977) , The Two of Them (1978), On Strike against God (1982), 
(Extraordinary People (1984). 

Eric Frank Russell, The Great Explosion (1962). Gandhian passive 

resistance thwarts terrestrial imperialism. 
Geoff Ryman, Air or Have not Have (2004). The information age arrives 

like a flood in a small Asian village. See also The Unconquered Country 

(1986), The Child Garden; or, A Low Comedy (1989), Lust (2000). 
James Sallis, ed., The War Book (1969). Anti-war SF anthology. 
Sarban, The Sound of His Horn (1952). 500 years after Hitler's victory, 

a timeslipped POW finds a world of baroque Nazi sentiment and 


Pamela Sargent, The Shore of Women (1986). In a gender-separatist post- 
apocalypse, an exiled woman from a high-tech city and a subsistence 
tribesman fall in love. Sargent edited three groundbreaking collections 
of SF with female protagonists by women, Women of Wonder (1975), 
More Women of Wonder (1976) and The New Women of Wonder 

(1978) ; collated and expanded as Women of Wonder: The Classic Years 
(1996) and Women of Wonder: The Contemporary Years (1996). 

Rob Sauer, ed., Voyages: Scenarios for a Ship Called Earth (1971). 
Ecological SF anthology. 

George Saunders, Civilwarland in Bad Decline (1996). Stories set in a 
minimum-wage, simulacral US. See also Pastoralia (2000), The Brief 
and Frightening Reign of Phil (2005), In Persuasion Nation (2006). 

Josephine Saxton, The Travails of Jane Saint and Other Stories (1986). 
Resisting reprogramming of her revolutionary tendencies, Jane 
adventures in other realities. Sequel: jane Saint and the Backlash 
(1989). See also The Power of Time (1985), Queen of the States 

George Schuyler Black No More (1931). African-Americans' adoption 
of a perfect whitening treatment destroys white supremacism. See also 
Black Empire (1936-38). 


Jody Scon, /, Vampire (1984). Feminist satire on contemporary capitalism. 

See also Passing for Human (1977). 
Melissa Scott, Trouble and Her Friends (1994). Queer cyberpunk. See 

also Shadow Man (1995), Night Sky Mine (1996), Dreaming Metal 

(1997), The Shapes of Their Hearts (1998), The Jazz (2000). 
Alan Seymour, The Coming Self -Destruction of the USA (1969). Agonised 

depiction of an African-American revolution, 
eluki bes shahar, Hellflower (1991). Postfeminist cyberpunkish space 

opera. Sequels: Darktraders (1992), Archangel Blues (1993). 
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818). Among 

many other things, a vision of a rising, rebellious proletariat. See also 

The Last Man (1826). 
Lucius Shephard, Life During Wartime (1987). Heart of Darkness 

replayed in near-future US-occupied Latin America. 
Lewis Shiner, Deserted Cities of the Heart (1988). Magic-realist SF about 

US imperialism. See also Frontera (1984), Slam (1990), Glimpses 

(1993). Shiner edited the anti-war anthology, When the Music's Over 


John Shirley, Eclipse (1985). After World War III, a ragtag, tech-sawy 

resistance fights a neo-fascist regime and its corporate sponsors. 

Sequels: Eclipse Penumbra (1988), Eclipse Corona (1990). 
Robert Silverberg, Dying Inside (1972). Contemporary alienation 

explored through a man with slowly-fading mind-reading powers. 

See also Thorns (1967), A Time of Changes (1971), The Stochastic 

Man (1975). 

Clifford Simak, Ring Around the Sun (1953). Mutant humans destroy 
capitalism so as to end the Cold War. See also City (1952). 

Upton Sinclair, The Millennium: A Comedy of the Year 2000 (1914). 
Global catastrophe leaves a dozen of the world's wealthiest to 
recapitulate in microcosm the shifts from slavery to feudalism to 
capitalism to socialism. See also Prince Hagen (1903; play version, 
1921), The Industrial Republic: A Study of the America of Ten Years 
Hence (1907), Roman Holiday (1931), /, Governor of California, and 
How I Ended Poverty (1933), We, People of America, and How We 
Ended Poverty: A True Story of the Future (1934), /, Candidate for 
Governor: And How I Got Licked (1934-35). 

Eduard Skobolev, Catastrophe (1983). Manic, talkative postcolonial 
adventure about the intertwined madness of imperialism and nuclear 

Joan Slonczewski, A Door into Ocean ( 1 986). Feminist separatist Utopia 
of sorts, in which indigenous non-violence struggles to understand and 
heal colonial invasion. Sequels: Daughter of Elysium (1993), Brain 


Plague (2000). See also The Forms on Foxfteld (1980), The Children 
Star (1998). 

Cordwainer Smith, The Rediscovery of Man (1988). In the far future, 

animals engineered into sentience revolt against human enslavers. See 

also Norstriiia (1975). 
Kent Smith, Future X (1990). A time-travelling descendant of Malcolm 

X must prevent his ancestor's assassination and his own dystopian 


Edmund Snell, Kontrol (1928). A decent chap overcomes technocratic 

Norman Spinrad, The Iron Dream (1972). In 1919, Adolf Hitler 
emigrated to the US to become a pulp SF author; this is the novel he 
wrote in the weeks before his death from syphilis. See also Bug Jack 
Barron (1969), Other Americas (1988), Russian Spring (1991). 

Olaf Stapledon, Star Maker (1937). Breathtaking, unrelenting cosmic 
epic about embracing otherness to form community. See also Last 
and First Men (1930), Odd John: A Story Between Jest and Earnest 
(1935), Sirius: A Fantasy of Love and Discord (1944). 

Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver (2003). The rise of mercantilism told 
from an information-age perspective posits capital as the first global 
information technology. Sequels: The Confusion (2004), The System 
of the World (2004). See also Cryptonomicon (1999). 

Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, The Second Invasion from Mars (1968). 
This time the Martians win by economic means; no-one much seems 
to notice or care. See also Hard to be a God (1964), Monday Begins 
on Saturday ( 1 965), The Ugly Swans ( 1 966-67), Noon: 22nd Century 
(1967), Tale of a Troika (1968), Roadside Picnic (1972). 

Theodore Sturgeon, Venus Plus X (1960). A post-gender Utopia - full of 
yearning and all the hang-ups of 1950s magazine SF. See also More 
than Human (1953), 'The World Well Lost' (1953); his short fiction 
is collected in The Ultimate Egoist (1994) and multiple subsequent 

Tricia Sullivan, Maul (2004). Post-feminist riot grrl shopping 'n' fighting 

spree, with a second-wave twist. 
Lucy Sussex, My Lady Tongue and Other Tales (1990). Lesbian, 

postcolonial SF and fantasy. 
Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels (1726). Satire on the excesses of reason 

and unreason. 

Sheri S. Tepper, The Gate to Women's Country (1988). Post-apocalyptic 
separatist Utopia featuring a secret feminist project for the survival of 
humanity and the world. See also Grass (1989; two sequels), Beauty 
(1991), Gibbon's Decline and Fall (1996), The Fresco (2000), The 
Visitor (2002), The Companions (2003), The Margarets (2007). 


Sheree R. Thomas, ed., Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Science 
Fiction from the African Diaspora (2000). Mostly African-American 
SF. See also Dark Matter: Reading the Bones (2004). 

James Tiptree, Jr, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever: The Great Years of James 
Tiptree, Jr (1990). Collects Alice Sheldon's best stories about gender, 
identity, sex and death, including 'The Women Men Don't See' (1973) 
and 'Houston, Houston, Do You Read?' (1976). 

Sue Thomas, Correspondence (1991). A disaffected woman slowly 
transforms herself into a machine, which begins to flourish. 

Alexei Tolstoy, Aelita (1922). Two Soviet visitors to Mars back a worker's 
revolt. See also Engineer Garin and His Death Ray (1927). 

Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889). Anti- 
clerical, republican if ultimately ambivalent time-travel narrative about 
the transition from feudalism to industrial capitalism. 

Thomas F. Tweed, Rinehard (1933). Brain-damaged - or divinely inspired 
- president overthrows the constitution and US institutions so as to 
alleviate the Depression. 

Jules Verne, Paris in the Twentieth Century (written 1863; 1994). 'Lost' 
dystopian comic romance unlocks the ambivalence towards modernity 
and mechanisation of Verne's more famous works. See also Twenty 
Thousand Leagues under the Seas (1870; transl. William Butcher), 
The Begum's Millions (1879; transl. Stanford L. Luce). 

Elisabeth Vonarburg, In the Mothers' Land (1992). A post-apocalyptic 
matriarchy is rocked by archaeological discoveries. See also The Silent 
City (1981), Reluctant Voyagers (1994), Dreams of the Sea (1996), A 
Game of Perfection (1997), Slow Engines of Time and Other Stories 

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr, Player Piano (1952). Dystopian satire on cybernetic 

Rex Warner, The Aerodrome ( 1 94 1 ). Comic jeremiad against the fascistic 
forces of modernity and the security state. See also The Wild Goose 
Chase (1936). 

Ian Watson, Slow Birds (1985). Collection of ironic stories, several of 
them directed against Cold War escalations. 

E.L. White, Lukundoo, and Other Stories (1927). Title story is an 
(ambiguously) anti-colonialist colonial fantasy. 

Colson Whitehead, The Intuitionist (1999). In an alternate America, 
race relations are articulated through the science and art of elevator 
construction and maintenance. 

Kate Wilhelm, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976). Feminist post- 
apocalyptic tale of cloning and posthuman becoming. 


John A. Williams, The Man Who Cried I Am ( 1 967). A novel of African- 
American insurgency. See also Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light (1968), 
Captain Blackman (1972), Jacob's Ladder (1987). 

Raymond Williams, The Volunteers (1978). Near-future thriller, prescient 
of the Thatcher-Blair state, about resistance and revolution. 

Tess Williams, Sea as Mirror (2000). Interspecies communication offers 
a key to surviving ecological and nuclear disasters. 

Connie Willis, 'All My Darling Daughters' ( 1 985). Grim tale of an abused 
girl in an orbital boarding school, where the boys rape aliens. See also 
Doomsday Book (1992). 

Monique Wittig, The Guerilleres (1969). Incantatory account of women's 
armed resistance to patriarchy and men. 

Bernard Wolfe, Limbo (1952). Dystopian satire digging deep into 
cybernetics and psychoanalysis, by Trotsky's one-time bodyguard. 
See also 'The Bisquit Position' (1972). 

Jack Womack, Random Acts of Senseless Violence ( 1 993). The best of the 
six-book Dryco series ( 1 987-2000) tells the story of a young woman's 
descent into poverty and abandonment of middle-class standards 
unsuited to her new life. See also Let's Put the Future Behind Us 

Ivan Yefremov, Andromeda (1957). Soviet adventures in a future socialist 

Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (1924). Prematurely anti-Stalinist dystopian satire 

on mechanism and order written by 1921. 
Pamela Zoline, 'The Heat Death of the Universe' (1967). Central to New 

Wave and feminist SF, it brings together the drudgery of a housewife's 

daily life and the entropic universe. 

2. Viewing 

Aelita (Protazonov, 1924). Adaptation of Alexei Tolstoy's novel 
emphasises the importance of building the revolutionary state. 

Alien (Scott, 1979). Monster-on-the-loose-in-a-spaceship hokum. 
Noteworthy for its production design, anti-corporatism and 'feminist' 

Alligator (Teague, 1980). John Sayles-scripted monster movie. 
Eponymous giant creature eats corrupt officials and polluting corporate 

Alphaville (Godard, 1965). Dystopian satire on bureaucracy and corn- 
modification, betraying a genuine affection for popular culture. See 
also RoGoPaG (1963), The Seven Deadly Sins (1967), Week End 
(1967), Germany Year 90 Nine Zero (1990). 


Andromeda (Sherstobitov, 1967). The first part of a never-completed 

adaptation of Ivan Yefremov's novel of space exploration. 
A Nous la liberte (Clair, 1931). Popular front Utopia, in which 

mechanisation frees workers for love, play, fishing and tramping. 
La Antenna (Sapir, 2007). Mr TV plots to enslave a city where everyone 

has lost their voices. 
The Atomic Cafe (Loader, Raferty and Raferty, 1982). Compilation of 

US pro-nuclear propaganda. 
The Bedford Incident (Harris, 1965). A cat-and-mouse game between 

a US destroyer and a Soviet nuclear submarine exposes Cold War 


Born in Flames (Borden, 1983). Ten years after the US socialist revolution, 

radical feminists foment a further revolution to eradicate sexism. Made 

over five years, and thus shaped by the transition from second- to 

third-wave feminisms. 
The Brother from Another Planet (Sayles, 1984). Escaped black alien 

slave on the run finds community in Harlem. 
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (Thompson, 1972). The studio 

neutered the conclusion of this depiction of worker/slave revolt, which 

resonated too strongly with Black Power. 
CQ (Coppola, 2001). The spirit of May 1968 lurks somewhere between 

an aspiring director's Godardian short and the camp Italian SF movie 

he is hired to complete. 
CSA: The Confederate States of America (Willmott, 2004). Alternative 

history pseudo-documentary in which slavery is not abolished reveals 

how deeply the tendrils of racism extend into the present. 
Cube (Natali, 1997). Eponymous device models the logic of capital for 

those trapped within it. See also Cypher (2002), Nothing (2003). 
The Damned (Losey, 1963). A warning that the only way to live in a 

nuclear world is to cease to be human. 
Dark City (Proyas, 1998). In a noirish city in space, aliens experiment on 

humans, offering a phantasmagorical image of life under capital. 
The Day the Earth Stood Still (Wise, 1951). Anti-nuclear film (or a 

celebration of the pax Americana). 
Death of a President (Range, 2006). Pseudo-documentary about the 

state's response to the assassination of George W. Bush. 
District 13 (Morel, 2004). Free-running as individual Utopia. 
Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb 

(Kubrick, 1964). Arms race satire. See also 2001: A Space Odyssey 

(1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971). 
Dust (Loban, 2005). Satire on contemporary Russia and elegy for the 

things lost with the end of the USSR. 


Edge of Darkness (Campbell, 1985). Fabulist chiller about British nuclear 

Face of Another (Teshigahari, 1966). Haunting adaptation of Abe Kobo's 
novel of alienation, in which a man whose face is disfigured in a fire 
is given an amazingly lifelike mask. See also Pitfall (1962), Woman 
of the Dunes (1964), The Ruined Map (1968). 

Fail-Safe (Lumet, 1964). Cold War tensions accidentally escalate into a 
nuclear exchange. Based on Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler's 
novel; remade on period equipment and broadcast live in 2000. 

First on the Moon (Fedorchenko, 2005). Mockumentary about the pre- 
war Soviet space programme. 

Five (Oboler, 1951). Racial and sexual tensions threaten the survivors 
of nuclear apocalypse. 

4 (Khrjanovsky, 2005). The apocalypse has already happened in this tale 
of clones and conspiracies in contemporary Russia. 

Gas! - or It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save 
It (Corman, 1971). Countercultural fun and games after a gas kills 
everyone over 25. 

Godzilla (Honda, 1954). Mournful, pacifistic, anti-nuclear monster 

Hail (Levinson, 1973). The president introduces extreme measures to 

suppress the counterculture. 
Hey Happy (Gonick, 2001 ). Outre queer comedy about sex, raves, UFOs 

and the apocalypse. 
The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Siegel, 1956). A satire on mechanical 

reproduction, commodification, alienation and McCarthyism. Based 

on Jack Finney's novel; Kaufman's 1978 version is the best of the 

three remakes. 

Island of Lost Souls (Kenton, 1 932). The best adaptation of H.G. Wells' 
The Island of Doctor Moreau draws out colonialism's hysterical 

La Jetee (Marker, 1962). Dystopian meditation on memory, desire and 

jubilee (Jarman, 1977). Elizabeth I time-travels into the depressed, 

depressing future of Elizabeth II's jubilee. 
Last Angel of History (Akomfrah, 1995). Science-fictionalised 

documentary about funk and afrofuturism. 
Last Night (McKellar, 1998). Low-budget comedy-drama riposte to 

Armageddon (Bay, 1998), focused on the lives of ordinary people 

during the six hours before the end of the world. 
King Kong (Cooper and Schoedsack, 1933). Powerful - if accidental 

- fantasy of colonial revolt. 


The Man in the White Suit (McKendrick, 1951). A revolution in 
manufacturing threatens the whole system of capitalism, including 
organised labour. 

The Man Who Fell to Earth (Roeg, 1976). Hyperbolic parable about 
alienation in the dawning information era. Based on a novel by Walter 

Max Headroom (Jankel and Morton, 1985). TV ratings are everything, 

even at the cost of viewers' lives. Punky dystopian drama later sanitised 

as a US primetime series. 
Metropolis (Lang, 1926). Workers vs capitalists in a monumentalist 

dystopia. See also The 1000 Eyes ofDr Mabuse (1960). 
Mon Oncle (Tati, 1958). Comedy about the absurdity of ultramodernity. 

See also Play Time (1967). 
Mr Freedom (Klein, 1969). The eponymous American superhero must 

destroy France in order to save it from Red Chinaman. See also The 

Model Couple (1977). 
Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 1968). Something from space 

zombifies the dead in this anti-racist movie. See also The Crazies 

(1973), Dawn of the Dead (1978). 
The Parallax View (Pakula, 1974). Journalist investigating a Robert 

Kennedy-style assassination uncovers a conspiracy involving a sinister 


Piranha (Dante, 1978). John Sayles-scripted monster movie indicts the 

military-industrial complex. 
Poison (Haynes, 1991). New Queer Cinema adaptation of Jean Genet 

includes a mad-science parody of AIDS hysteria. 
Primer (Carruth, 2004). Dystopian vision of the inescapable here-and- 


Punishment Park (Watkins, 1971). Young radicals and counterculturals 
are given a potentially lethal alternative to prison. See also The War 
Game (1965), Privilege (1967), Gladiators (1969), The Trap (1975), 
Evening Land ( 1 977). 

Repo Man (Cox, 1984). Punk fable about the alienation of contemporary 
American life, including televangelists, small-time crooks, repo men, 
ufologists, government conspiracies and the Roswell aliens. See also 
Death and the Compass (1992), Revengers Tragedy (2002). 

RoboCop (Verhoeven, 1987). Violent, anti-corporate satire. See also 
Starship Troopers (1997). 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Sharman, 1975). Unlocks the queerness 
of popular SF. 

Rollerball (Jewison, 1975). One man vs the global corporations. 
The Spook Who Sat by the Door (Dixon, 1 973). Independent adaptation 
of Sam Greenlee's novel about black urban revolution. 


Sankofa (Gerima, 1993). Self-centred fashion model time-travels to the 

era of plantation slavery and Maroon resistance. 
Save the Green Planet (Jang, 2003). Capitalists are aliens! 
Seconds (Frankenheimer, 1966). A corporation enables the discontented 

rich to take on new identities in lives designed to fulfil their desires. 

Based on David Ely's novel. See also The Manchurian Candidate 

(1962), Seven Days in May (1964). 
Seven Days to Noon (Boulting brothers, 1950). A nuclear scientist tries 

to blackmail Britain into unilateral disarmament. 
The Silent Star (Maetzig, 1960). East German paean to international 

cooperation, featuring a trip to Venus, Alien-style gender equality and 

a dire nuclear warning. Based on Stanislaw Lem's novel. 
The Sleepwalker (Spiner, 1998). In totalitarian future Buenos Aires, 

thousands of people have no memory of their real identities. A Dickian 

conceit articulates the trauma of Argentina's desaparecidos. 
Southland Tales (Kelly, 2007). Science-fictionalised depiction of the era 

of Homeland Security; preceded by the comics collected as Southland 

Tales: The Prequel Saga (2007). 
The Stuff (Cohen, 1985). Low-budget satire on commodity fetishism. See 

also God Told Me To (1976), the It's Alive trilogy (1974-87). 
Tetsuo (Tsukamoto, 1989). Re-embodying the fantasy of cyberspace, as 

if the Angel of History were a Japanese cyberpunk filmmaker. 
They Live (Carpenter, 1988). Yuppies are aliens! 

Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America (Baldwin, 1992). 

Alternative history in which US incursions into Latin America disturb 

a subterranean extraterrestrial society. See also RocketKitKongoKit 

(1986), Spectres of the Spectrum (1999). 
Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (Paton, 1916). The only adaptation 

of Jules Verne's novel to emphasise Nemo's anticolonialism. 
A Very British Coup (Jackson, 1988). A working-class socialist prime 

minister dismantles Britain's nuclear arsenal. Based on Chris Mullin's 

novel. See also Threads (1984). 
Watermelon Man (Van Peebles, 1970). A white racist wakes up one 

morning to find he is black. 
Welcome II the Terrordome (Onwurah, 1995). British hip-hop story of 

life, death and revolution in a future black ghetto. 
White Man's Burden (Nakano, 1995). Role-reversed race melodrama 

in an alternative US. 
Wild in the Streets (Shear, 1968). Countercultural under-thirties take 

over the government. 
The World, the Flesh and the Devil (MacDougall, 1959). Racial and 

sexual tensions threaten the survivors of the apocalypse. 


The Year of the Sex Olympics (Elliott, 1968). Nigel Kneale's satire 
on ubiquitous media as a distraction from the operations of power 
'predicts' reality TV. 

Critical and Theoretical Works 

1. Selected Marxist SF Theory and Criticism 

Marc Angenot, 'The Absent Paradigm: An Introduction to the Semiotics 

of Science Fiction', Science Fiction Studies 6: 1 (1979), pp. 9-19. 
Marc Angenot and Darko Suvin, 'Not Only But Also: Reflections on 

Cognition and Ideology in Science Fiction and SF Criticism', Science 

Fiction Studies 6: 2 (1979), pp. 168-79. 
'A Response to Professor Fekete's "Five Theses'", Science Fiction 

Studies 15: 3 (1988), pp. 324-33. 
Raffaella Baccollini and Tom Moylan, eds, Dark Horizons: Science 

Fiction and the Dystopian Imagination (London: Routledge, 2003). 
Matthew Beaumont, 'Red Sphinx: Mechanics of the Uncanny in The Time 

Machine', Science Fiction Studies 33: 2 (2006), pp. 230-50. 
Utopia Ltd: Ideologies of Social Dreaming in England, 1870-1900 

(Leiden: Brill, 2005). 
Mark Bould, 'Come Alive By Saying No: An Introduction to Black Power 

SF', Science Fiction Studies 34: 2 (2007), pp. 220-40. 
'The Dreadful Credibility of Absurd Things: A Tendency in Fantasy 

Theory', Historical Materialism 10: 4 (2002), pp. 51-88. 
'On the Boundary between Oneself and the Other: Aliens and 

Language in AVP, Dark City, The Brother from Another Planet 

and Possible Worlds 1 , Yearbook in English Studies 37: 2 (2007), 

pp. 234-54. 

and Sherryl Vint, 'Learning from the Little Engines That Couldn't: 

Transported by Gernsback, Wells, and Latour', Science Fiction Studies 

33: 1 (2006), pp. 129^t8. 
William J. Burling, ed., Kim Stanley Robinson Maps the Unimaginable: 

Critical Essays (Jefferson: McFarland, 2009). 
'Reading Time: The Ideology of Time Travel in Science Fiction', 

Kronoscope 6: 1 (2006), pp. 5-28. 
'The Theoretical Foundation of Utopian Radical Democracy in 

Kim Stanley Robinson's Blue Mars', Utopian Studies 16 (2005), 

pp. 75-96. 

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr, 'Science Fiction and Empire', Science Fiction 

Studies 30: 2 (2003), pp. 231-45. 
Samuel R. Delany, The American Shore: Meditations of a Tale of Science 

Fiction (Elizabethtown: Dragon Press, 1978). 


The ]ewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction 

(Elizabethtown: Dragon Press, 1977). 
Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction 

(Pleasantville: Dragon Press, 1984). 
John Fekete, 'The Stimulations of Simulations: Five Theses on Science 

Fiction and Marxism', Science Fiction Studies 15: 3 (1988), 

pp. 312-23. 

Peter Fitting, 'The Modern Anglo-American SF Novel: Utopian Longing 
and Capitalist Cooptation', Science Fiction Studies 6: 1 (1979), 
pp. 59-76. 

'Reality as Ideological Construct', Science Fiction Studies 10: 2 

(1983), pp. 219-36. 
'Ubik: The Deconstruction of Bourgeois SF', Science Fiction Studies 

2: 1 (1975), pp. 47-54. 
H. Bruce Franklin, 'America as SF: 1939', Science Fiction Studies 9: 2 

(1982), pp. 38-50. 
Robert A Heinlein: America as Science Fiction (Oxford: Oxford 

University Press, 1980). 
'The Vietnam War as American SF and Fantasy', Science Fiction 

Studies 17: 3 (1990), pp. 341-59. 
War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination 

(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988). 
Carl Freedman, Critical Theory and Science Fiction (Hanover: Wesleyan 

University Press, 2000). 
George Orwell: A Study in Ideology and Literary Form (New York: 

Garland, 1988). 

The Incomplete Projects: Marxism, Modernity, and the Politics of 

Culture (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2002). 
Donna J. Haraway, Modest _Witness@Second_Mdlenntum.FemaleMan t '_ 

Meets_Oncomouse™: Feminism and Technoscience (London: 

Routledge, 1997). 
Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern 

Science (London: Routedge, 1989). 
Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (London: 

Free Association Books, 1991). 
Fredric Jameson, Archaelogies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia 

and Other Science Fictions (London: Verso, 2005). 
Rob Latham, Consuming Youth: Vampires, Cyborgs and the Culture of 

Consumption (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002). 
Pierre Macherey, A Theory of Literary Production, transl. Geoffrey Wall 

(London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978). 
China Mieville, 'The Conspiracy of Architecture: Notes on a Modern 

Anxiety', Historical Materialism 2 (1998), pp. 1-32. 


'Editorial Introduction', Historical Materialism 10: 4 (2002), 

pp. 39-49. 

ed., Historical Materialism 10: 4 (2002) - 'Marxism and Fantasy' 

special issue. 

Andrew Milner, 'Utopia and Science Fiction in Raymond Williams', 

Science Fiction Studies 30: 2 (2003), pp. 199-216. 
and Robert Savage, 'Pulped Dreams: Utopia and American Pulp 

Science Fiction', Science Fiction Studies 35: 1 (2008), pp. 31-47. 
Tom Moylan, Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian 

Imagination (London: Methuen, 1986). 
Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, Utopia, Dystopia 

(Boulder: Westview, 2000). 
and Raffaella Baccolini, eds, Utopia Method Vision: The Use Value 

of Social Dreaming (Bern: Peter Lang, 2007). 
Annalee Newitz, Pretend We're Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American 

Pop Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006). 
Yusuf Nurudin, Alcena M.D. Rogan and Victor Wallis, eds, Socialism 

and Democracy 20: 3 - 'Socialism and Social Critique in Science 

Fiction' special issue. 
Patrick Parrinder, ed., Learning from Other Worlds: Estrangement, 

Cognition and the Politics of Science Fiction and Utopia (Liverpool: 

Liverpool University Press, 2000). 
John Rieder, 'Embracing the Alien: Science Fiction in Mass Culture', 

Science Fiction Studies 9: 1 (1982), pp. 26-37. 
Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction (Middletown: 

Wesleyan University Press, 2008). 
Glenn Rikowski, 'Alien Life: Marx and the Future of the Human', 

Historical Materialism 11:2 (2003), pp. 121-64. 
Kim Stanley Robinson, The Novels of Philip K. Dick (Ann Arbor: UMI 

Research Press, 1984). 
Shaviro, Steven (1993) The Cinematic Body (Minneapolis: University of 

Minnesota Press, 1993). 
Connected, or What it Means to Live in the Network Society 

(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003). 
Doom Patrols: A Theoretical Fiction about Postmodernism (London: 

Serpent's Tail, 1997). 
Vivian Sobchack, Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film 

(New York: Ungar, 1987). 
Suvin, Darko, 'Considering the Sense of "Fantasy" or "Fantastic Fiction"', 

Extrapolation 41: 3 (2000), pp. 209-47. 
Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a 

Literary Genre (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979). 


Positions and Presuppositions in Science Fiction (Houndmills: 

Macmillan, 1988). 

'Reflections on What Remains of Zamyatin's We after the Change 

of Leviathans: Must Collectivism Be Against People?' in Marleen Barr, 
ed., Envisioning the Future: Science Fiction and the Next Millennium 
(Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2003), pp. 51-81. 

'Science Fiction Parables of Mutation and Cloning as/and Cognition', 

in Domna Pastourmatzi, ed., Biotechnological and Medical Themes in 
Science Fiction (Thessaloniki: University Studio, 2002), pp. 131-51. 

'Utopianism from Orientation to Agency: What Are We 

Intellectuals under PostFordism To Do?' Utopian Studies 9: 2 (1998), 
pp. 162-90. 

Victorian Science Fiction in the UK: Discourses of Knowledge and 

Power (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1983). 
ed., Fictions 3 (2005) - 'US Science Fiction and War/Militarism' 

special issue. 

Sherryl Vint, 'Double Identity: Interpolation in Gwyneth Jones' Aleutian 

Trilogy', Science Fiction Studies 28: 3 (2001), pp. 399-425. 
and Mark Bould, 'All That Melts Into Air Is Solid: Rematerialising 

Capital in Cube and Videodrome', Socialism and Democracy 20: 3 

(2006), pp. 217-43. 
Phillip Wegner, Imaginary Communities: Utopia, the Nation, and the 

Spatial Histories of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California 

Press, 2002). 

Raymond Williams, 'Science Fiction', The Highway 48 (1956), pp. 41-5. 

Reprinted in Science Fiction Studies 15: 3 (1988), pp. 356-60. 
'Utopia and Science Fiction', Science Fiction Studies 5: 3 (1978), pp. 

203-14. Reprinted in Patrick Parrinder, ed., Science Fiction: A Critical 

Guide (London: Longman, 1979). 

2 Other Critical and Theoretical Works 

Anglophone Journals 

Extrapolation (1959- ). 
Femspec (1999- ). 

Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction (1972- ). 
Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts (1988- ). 
Science Fiction Film and Television (2008- ). 
Science Fiction Studies (1973- ). 
Utopian Studies (1988- ). 

Selected Reference and Introductory Works 

Brian Aldiss with David Wingrove, Trillion Year Spree: The History of 
Science Fiction (London: Gollancz, 1986). 


Paul K. Alkon, Science Fiction Before 1900: Imagination Discovers 

Technology (New York: Twayne, 1994). 
Neil Barron, ed., Anatomy of Wonder S: A Critical Guide to Science 

Fiction (Westport: Libraries Unlimited, 2004); four earlier editions 

(1976, 1981, 1987, 1995) with substantially different contents. 
Mark Bould, The Routledge Film Guidebook: Science Fiction (London: 

Routledge, forthcoming). 
Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts and Sherryl Vint, eds, The 

Routledge Companion to Science Fiction (London: Routledge, 


Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts and Sherryl Vint, eds, Fifty Key 

Figures in Science Fiction (London: Routledge, 2009). 
and Sherryl Vint, The Routledge Concise History of Science Fiction 

(London: Routledge, forthcoming). 
John Clute and Peter Nicholls, eds, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, 

second edn (London: Orbit, 1993). Third edn forthcoming. 
Phil Hardy, ed., The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction, second 

edn (London: Aurum, 1995). 
Edward James, Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford 

University Press, 1994). 
Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn, eds, The Cambridge Companion 

to Science Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). 
Brooks Landon, Science Fiction after 1900: From the Steam Man to the 

Stars (New York: Twayne, 1997). 
Sarah Lefanu, In the Chinks of the World Machine: Feminism and Science 

Fiction (London: The Women's Press, 1989). 
Roger Luckhurst, Science Fiction (Cambridge: Polity, 2005). 
Robin Anne Reid, ed., Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy (Westport: 

Greenwood, forthcoming) 
Patrick Parrinder, Science Fiction: Its Criticism and Teaching (London: 

Methuen, 1980). 

Adam Roberts, The History of Science Fiction (Basingstoke: Palgrave 

Macmillan, 2005). 

Science Fiction, second edn (London: Routledge, 2006). 

Mark Rose, Alien Encounters: Anatomy of Science Fiction (Cambridge: 

Harvard University Press, 1981). 
David Seed, ed., A Companion to Science Fiction (Oxford: Blackwell, 

2005) . 

Brian Stableford, Science Fact and Science Fiction (London: Routledge, 

2006) . 

Selected Monographs, Collections and Anthologies 
Paul K. Alkon, The Origins of Futuristic Fiction (Athens: University of 
Georgia Press, 1987). 


Lucie Armitt, ed., Where No Man Has Gone Before: Women and Science 

Fiction (London: Routledge, 1991). 
Mike Ashley, The Time Machines: The Story of the Science-Fiction 

Pulp Magazines from the Beginning to 19 SO (Liverpool: Liverpool 

University Press, 2000). 
Transformations: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 

1950-1970 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2005). 
Gateways to Forever: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines 

from 1970-1980 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2007). 
The Eternal Chronicles: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines 

since 1980 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, forthcoming). 
Brian Attebery, Decoding Gender in Science Fiction (London: Routledge, 


Anne Balsamo, Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg 

Women (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996). 
Marleen Barr, ed., Future Females: An Anthology (Bowling Green: 

Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1981). 
Alien to Femininity: Speculative Fiction and Feminist Theory 

(Westport: Greenwood, 1987). 
Feminist Fabulation: Space/Postmodern Fiction (Iowa: Iowa 

University Press, 1992). 
ed., Future Females, The Next Generation: New Voices and Velocities 

in Feminist Science Fiction Criticism (Boulder: Rowman & Lirtlefield, 


Daniel Leonard Bernardi, Star Trek and History: Race-ing Toward 
a White Future (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1998). 

Christopher Bolton, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr, and Takayuki Tatsumi, 
eds, Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction 
from Origins to Anime (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 

Damien Broderick, Reading by Starlight: Postmodern Science Fiction 

(London: Routledge, 1995). 
Scott Bukatman, Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern 

Science Fiction (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993). 
I.F. Clarke, Voices Prophesying War: Future Wars, 1763-3749, second 

edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992). 
Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr, The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction 

(Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2008). 
Jane L. Donawerth, Frankenstein's Daughters: Women Writing Science 

Fiction (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1997). 
and Carol A. Kolmerten, eds, Utopian and Science Fiction by Women: 

Worlds of Difference (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1994). 


Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction 

(London: Quartet, 1998). 
Thomas Foster, The Souls of Cyberfolk: Posthumanism as Vernacular 

Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005). 
Colin Greenland, The Entropy Exhibition: Michael Moorcock and the 

British 'New Wave' in Science Fiction (London: Routledge & Kegan 

Paul, 1983). 

Taylor Harrison, Sarah Projansky, Kent A. Ono and Elyce Rae Helford, 
eds, Enterprise Zones: Critical Positions of Star Trek (Boulder: 
Westview, 1996). 

N. Katherine Hayles, Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary 
Literature and Science (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990). 

How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, 

Literature and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 

My Mother was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts 

(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005). 
ed., Chaos and Order: Complex Dynamics in Literature and Science 

(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991). 
Veronica Hollinger and Joan Gordon, eds, Edging into the Future: Science 

Fiction and Contemporary Cultural Transformation (Philadelphia: 

University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002). 
John Huntington, Rationalizing Genius: Ideological Strategies in the 

Classic American Science Fiction Short Story (New Brunswick: Rutgers 

University Press, 1989). 
Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory 

Culture (London: Routledge, 1992). 
Gwyneth Jones, Deconstructing the Starships: Science, Fiction and Reality 

(Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999). 
De Witt Douglas Kilgore, Astrofuturism: Science, Race, and Visions 

of Utopia in Space (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 


Gill Kirkup, Linda Janes, Kathryn Woodward and Fiona Hovenden, eds, 

The Gendered Cyborg: A Reader (London: Routledge, 2000). 
Rob Kitchin and James Kneale, eds, Lost in Space: Geographies of Science 

Fiction (New York: Continuum, 2002). 
Damon Knight, The Futurians: The Story of the Science Fiction 'Family' 

of the 30s That Produced Today's Top SF Writers and Editors (New 

York: John Day, 1977). 
Annette Kuhn, ed., Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary 

Science Fiction Cinema (London: Verso, 1990). 
ed., Alien Zone II: The Space of Science Fiction (London: Verso, 



Brooks Landon, Aesthetics of Ambivalence: Rethinking Science Fiction 
in the Age of Electronic (Re)production (Westport: Greenwood, 

Justine Larbalestier, The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction (Middletown: 

Wesleyan University Press, 2002). 
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and 

Science Fiction (New York: Perigee, 1979). 
Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, 

Places (New York: Grove, 1989). 
Graham Lock, Blutopia: Visions of the Future and Revisions of the 

Past in the Work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton 

(Durham: Duke University Press, 2000). 
Roger Luckhurst, The Invention of Telepathy (Oxford: Oxford University 

Press, 2002). 

Larry McCaffery, ed., Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of 
Cyberpunk and Postmodern Science Fiction (Durham: Duke UP, 

Louis Marin, Utopics: Spatial Play, transl. Robert A. Vollrath (London: 

Macmillan, 1984). 
Graham J. Murphy and Sherryl Vint, eds, Beyond the Reality Studio: 

Cyberpunk in the New Millennium (forthcoming). 
Alondra Nelson, ed., Social Text 71 (2002) - 'Afrofuturism' special 


Wendy Gay Pearson, Veronica Hollinger and Joan Gordon, eds, Queer 

Universes: Sexualities and Science Fiction (Liverpool: Liverpool 

University Press, 2006). 
Constance Penley, NASA/Trek: Popular Science and Sex in America 

(London: Verso, 1997). 
Constance Penley, Elisabeth Lyon, Lynn Spigel and Janet Bergstrom, eds, 

Close Encounters: Film, Feminism and Science Fiction (Minneapolis: 

University of Minnesota Press, 1991). 
David Porush, Soft Machine: Cybernetic Fiction (London: Methuen, 


Sean Redmond, ed., Liquid Metal: The Science Fiction Film Reader 

(London: Wallflower, 2004). 
Joanna Russ, To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science 

Fiction (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995). 
The Country You Have Never Seen: Essays and Reviews (Liverpool: 

Liverpool University Press, 2007). 
Ziauddin Sardar and Sean Cubitt, eds, Aliens R Us: The Other in Science 

Fiction Cinema (London: Pluto, 2002). 
Robert Scholes, Structural Fabulation: An Essay on the Fiction of the 

Future (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 1975). 


David Seed, American Science Fiction and the Cold War: Literature and 

Film (Keele: Keele University Press, 1999). 
Alan N. Shapiro, Star Trek: Technologies of Disappearance (Berlin: 

Avernus, 2004). 

George Slusser and Tom Shippey, eds, Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the 

Future of Narrative (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992). 
Claudia Springer, Electronic Eros: Bodies and Desire in the Postindustrial 

Age (London: Athlone, 1996). 
Brian Stableford, Scientific Romance in Britain, 1890-1950 (London: 

Fourth Estate, 1985). 

The Sociology of Science Fiction (San Bernadino: Borgo, 1987). 

J. P. Telotte, Replications: A Robotic History of Science Fiction Film 

(Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995). 
A Distant Technology: Science Fiction Film and the Machine Age 

(Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1999). 
Science Fiction Film (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 


ed., The Essential Science Fiction Television Reader (Lexington: 

University Press of Kentucky, 2008). 
John Tulloch and Henry Jenkins, Science Fiction Audiences: Watching 

Doctor Who and Star Trek (London: Routledge, 1995). 
Sherryl Vint, Bodies of Tomorrow: Technology, Subjectivity, Science 

Fiction (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006). 
Gary Westfahl, The Mechanics of Wonder: The Creation of the Idea of 

Science Fiction (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1998). 
Martin Willis, Mesmerists, Monsters, and Machines: Science Fiction and 

the Cultures of Science in the Nineteenth Century (Kent: Kent State 

University Press, 2006). 
Gary K. Wolfe, The Known and the Unknown: The Iconography of 

Science Fiction (Kent: Kent State University Press, 1979). 
Jenny Wolmark, Aliens and Others: Science Fiction, Feminism and 

Postmodernism (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993). 
ed., Cybersexualities: A Reader on Feminist Theory, Cyborgs and 

Cyberspace (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999). 
Lisa Yaszek, Galactic Suburbia: Recovering Women's Science Fiction 

(Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2008). 


Matthew Beaumont is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English 
Language and Literature at University College, London and the author 
of Utopia Ltd: Ideologies of Social Dreaming in England 1870-1900 
(2005). He is the editor of Adventures in Realism (2007) and the Oxford 
World Classics edition of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (2007), 
and a co-editor of As Radical as Reality Itself: Essays on Marxism and 
Art for the 21st Century (2007) and The Railway and Modernity: Time, 
Space, and the Machine Ensemble (2007). 

Mark Bould is Reader in Film and Literature at the University of the 
West of England and co-editor of Science Fiction Film and Television. 
He is the author of Film Noir: From Berlin to Sin City (2005) and The 
Cinema of John Sayles: Lone Star (2009) and a co-editor of Parietal 
Games: Critical Writings By and On M. John Harrison (2005), The 
Routledge Companion to Science Fiction (2009), Neo-noir (2009) and 
Fifty Key Figures in Science Fiction (2009). He is currently co-writing The 
Routledge Concise History of Science Fiction and writing The Routledge 
Film Guidebook: Science Fiction. 

William J. Burling is Professor of English at Missouri State University and 
is the editor of Kim Stanley Robinson Maps the Unimaginable: Critical 
Essays (2009). He has recent essays in Utopian Studies, Kronoscope, 
Extrapolation, The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction and Fifty 
Key Figures in Science Fiction. 

Carl Freedman is Professor of English at Louisiana State University. He 
is the author of George Orwell: A Study in Ideology and Literary Form 
(1988), Critical Theory and Science Fiction (2000) and The Incomplete 
Projects: Marxism, Modernity and the Politics of Culture (2002), and the 
editor of Conversations with Isaac Asimov (2005), Conversations with 
Ursula K. Le Guin (2008) and Conversations with Samuel R. Delany 

Darren Jorgensen is a lecturer in art history at the University of Western 
Australia. In addition to publishing on Aboriginal representations and 
their implications for leftist politics, he is currently drafting a study of 
SF and the sublime, and co-editing with Helen Merrick special issues 



of Extrapolation (on the histories of SF) and Reconstruction (on the 
transformation of genre). 

Rob Latham is Associate Professor of English at the University of 
California at Riverside. A co-editor of Science Fiction Studies since 
1 997, he is the author of Consuming Youth: Vampires, Cyborgs, and 
the Culture of Consumption (2002) and is currently working on a book 
on New Wave SF. 

Iris Luppa is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at London South Bank 
University. She is the author of Weimar Cinema (2009) and has published 
several articles on the films of Fritz Lang. 

China Mieville is the author of King Rat (1998), Perdido Street Station 
(2000), The Scar (2002), Iron Council (2004), Looking for Jake and 
Other Stories (2005), Un Lun Dun (2007) and The City & The City 
(2009). An editor of Historical Materialism and the author of Between 
Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law (2005), he is 
Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck School of Law and Associate 
Professor of Creative Writing at Warwick University. 

Andrew Milner is Professor of Cultural Studies at Monash University. His 
most recent books are Re-Imagining Cultural Studies (2002), Literature, 
Culture and Society (2005), Postwar British Critical Thought (2005) and 
Imagining the Future: Utopia and Dystopia (2006). 

John Rieder is a Professor of English at the University of Hawai'i at 
Manoa, where he teaches courses on Marxist cultural theory and SF. 
He is the author of Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction 

Steven Shaviro is the DeRoy Professor of English at Wayne State 
University. He is the author of The Cinematic Body (1993), Doom 
Patrols: A Theoretical Fiction about Postmodernism ( 1 997), Connected, 
or, What It Means to Live in the Network Society (2003) and Without 
Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics (2009). His blog is 
The Pinocchio Theory ( 

Sherryl Vint is Assistant Professor of English at Brock University and a 
co-editor of Extrapolation, Humanimalia and Science Fiction Film and 
Television. The author of Bodies of Tomorrow (2007) and a co-editor 
of The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction (2009) and Fifty Key 
Figures in Science Fiction (2009), she is currently completing Animal 


Alterity: Science Fiction and the Question of the Animal and co-writing 
The Routledge Concise History of Science Fiction. 

Phillip Wegner is an Associate Professor in English at the University of 
Florida. He is the author of Imaginary Communities: Utopia, the Nation, 
and the Spatial Histories of Modernity (2002) and Life Between Two 
Deaths, 1989-2001: US Culture in the Long Nineties (2009), and is 
currently completing Periodizing Jameson; or, the Adventures of Theory 
in Post-Contemporary Times and Ontologies of the Possible: Utopia, 
Science Fiction, and Globalization. 


Abe Kobo 226 

Abel, Alfred 167 

Acampora, Ralph 132 

Adams, Douglas 155 

Adorno, Theodor 49, 52, 55, 56, 

57,58,61-2, 160-1 
Aeschylus 218, 222, 223 
Agamben, Giorgio 143 
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence 119 
Aldiss, Brian 184, 214, 215, 217 
Alice, Mary 13 
Alien 95 
Alphaville 1, 76 

Althusser, Louis 18, 22, 32, 73—4, 
19, 198-201,204-7, 208-9, 

Altov, Genrikh 226 
Amazing Stories 22, 178, 214 
Anderson, Perry 62 
Angenot, Marc 5 
Antonius Diogenes 222 
Aristophanes 218, 222 
Armstrong, Philip 1 32 
Arnheim, Rudolf 159, 165, 171 
Asimov, Isaac 17, 119, 179, 226, 

'Dying Night, The' 237 
Asphalt Jungle, The 68 
Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner 53 
Atwood, Margaret 

Handmaid's Tale, The 1 
Augustine of Hippo 219 

Bacon, Francis 218, 222, 224 
Badiou, Alain 105, 143, 147 
Baikatis, Helmut 13 
Bakunin, Mikhail 219 

Balazs, Bela 159, 160 
Bale, Christian 118 
Balibar, Etienne 49, 54, 56, 58 
Ballard, J.G. 43, 226 
Baltrusaitis, Jurgis 33, 35 
Banks, Iain M. 17, 119, 226 
Baudelaire, Charles 76 
Bear, Greg 2, 202 
Beaumont, Matthew 1 9 
Beckett, Samuel 248 
Beethoven, Ludwig van 

Fidelio 81 
Bellamy, Edward 17, 47, 222, 

Looking Backward, 2000-1887 

Belyaev, Alexander 226 
Ben ford, Gregory 202 
Benjamin, Walter 56, 159, 181, 

Berger, John 30-1, 120-1 
Big Sleep, The 77 
Bilenkin, Dmitri 226 
Bisson, Terry 

Fire on the Mountain 154 
Blade Runner 76, 77-8, 80, 96, 

190, 195 
Blake, William 14, 222 

Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 
The SI 
Blish, James 17 

Bloch, Ernst 19, 41, 70, 75, 80, 
81, 172, 173-4,213,214, 

Bogart, Humphrey 77 

Bogdanov, Alexander 142, 226 

Bornjaded 99 



Bould, Mark 247 
Boulle, Pierre 226 
Bound 25 

Bourdieu, Pierre 31, 57-8, 98, 99 
Boyd, William 134 
Brecht, Bertolt 49, 49-50, 56, 65, 
85, 141, 159,214 

Kuhle Wampe 174 
Bright, Susie 25 
Brussolo, Serge 226 
Buchanan, Ian 209 
Buder, Stanley 191 
Buffy the Vampire Slayer 

'Conversations with Dead 
People' 220 
Bulwer-Lytton, Edward 216 
Burkett, Paul 133—4 
Bulgakov, Mikhail 226 
Bulychev, Kir 226 
Burling, William J. 19 
Burrows, Roger 190 
Butler, Judith 143 
Butler, Octavia 143, 154 

Campanella, Tommaso 218, 219, 

Campbell, Jr., John W. 220, 223, 

Canby, Vincent 98 
Capek, Karel 142, 215, 223, 226 
R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal 

Robots) 120, 121 
War with the Newts 120, 122, 

Carlyle, Thomas 224 
Cassidy, Joanna 77 
Castells, Manuel 9-10, 21, 

182-3, 184, 185, 188, 192 
Chandler, Raymond 71 

'Simple Art of Murder, The' 71 
Clarke, Arthur C. 226 
Clauren, Heinrich 175 

Close Encounters of the Third 

Kind 70 
Clute, John 214, 247 
Cohn-Bendit, Daniel 203-4, 212 
Collins, Daniel 34 
Connelly, Jennifer 79, 82 
Conquest, Robert 246 
Constable, John 43 
Constantine, Eddie 76 
Cook, Thomas 3 
Cook's Tours 3 
Copernicus, Nicolaus 104 
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 


Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., Istvan 17 
cyberpunk 2, 108, 109, 139, 143, 

190, 226 
Cyrano de Bergerac, Savinien 222 

Dalf, Salvador 35 

Baigneuse 35 
Dante Alighieri 76 
Dark City (1950) 82 
Dark City (1998) 75-6, 78-82 
Dark Knight, The 1 
Darwin, Charles 104 
Daston, Lorraine 132 
Davis, Mike 190 
Day the Earth Stood Still, The 
66, 67, 68-9, 70, 71-2, 74, 
87-8, 91 
Debord, Guy 89, 181 
del Toro, Guillermo 221, 222 

Devil's Backbone, The 221 

Pan's Labyrinth 220, 221 
Delany, Samuel R. 17, 19, 21, 47, 
65,70, 193, 226 

Dhalgren 189, 190 
Deleuze, Gilles 139 
Derrida, Jacques 132, 137, 143, 

Descartes, Rene 45 
Devil's Backbone, The 221 

INDEX 285 

Diabolik 14 

Dick, Philip K. 21, 41, 70, 197-8, 

Counter-Clock World 210 
Do Androids Dream of Electric 

Sheep? 77 
Dr Bloodmoney, or How We 

Got Along After the Bomb 

198-200, 210 
Man in the High Castle, The 


Simulacra, The 210 

Solar Lottery 210 

Ufa* 210 
Dick Tracy 76 
Dieterle, William 

Dar* Qry (1950) 82 
Disch, Thomas M. 70, 184 

Camp Concentration 184 

Genocides, The 184 

334 21, 184-90, 194 
Doctorow, Cory 

Down and Out in the Magic 
Kingdom 103 
Dommartin, Solveig 88 
Donnelly, Ignatius 

Caesar's Column 180 
Double Indemnity 66, 67, 67-8, 

71, 73-4 
Dr Mabuse, der Spieler 171 
Duchamp, L. Timmel 17 
Dudow, Slatan 

Kuhle Wampe 174 
Dumas pere, Alexandre 224, 225 
Dunn, Thomas P. 195 
Dullea, Keir 69, 91 
Diirer, Albrecht 34 
Durst, David 172 
Durus, Alfred 159 
Dyer, Richard 172 
dystopia 21,40, 44, 104, 109, 
139, 143, 162, 184, 189, 
190, 195,213, 221,222, 
224, 226, 243, 244 

Eagleton, Terry ix, 56 
Ebert, Roger 98 
Egan, Greg 202-3 
Quarantine 203 
Eggebrecht, Axel 159, 160-2, 

Einstein, Albert 68 
Eisenhower, Dwight D. 67 
Eisenstein, Sergei 142 
Eisnitz, Gail A. 136 
Eleftheriotis, Dimitris 98 
Eliot, T.S. 76,217 
Ellison, Harlan 226 
Emel, Jody 132 
Emstev, Mikhail 226 
Engels, Friedrich 73, 74, 75, 80, 

134, 180, 192 
Erlich, Richard D. 195 
Ermarth, Elizabeth 38 
Euhemerus 222 
Extrapolation 17 

fantasy 4, 19, 143,218-22, 
231-5, 239^5, 246, 247 

Fenelon, Francois de Salignac de 

Feuerbach, Ludwig Andreas 1 34 

Fialkowski, Konrad 226 

Final Cut, The 82 

Fishburne, Laurence 13 

Fishman, Robert 191 

Flammarion, Camille 216 

Flaubert, Gustave 
Salammbo 224 

Flint, Eric 17 

Florensky, Pavel 29, 44 

Fondaneche, Daniel 211 

Forbidden Planet 225 

Ford, Harrison 77 

Forster, E.M. 142 

Foster, Gloria 13 

Foundation: The Review of 
Science Fiction 1 7 


Fourier, Charles 222 
France, Anatole 226 
Francione, Gary 125 
Franck, Arnold 

White Hell ofPitz Palu, The 

Frank Reade dime novels 3 

Franklin, H. Bruce 19 

Frau im Mond 21, 160, 162, 

165-74, 176 
Freedman, Carl 19, 19-20, 20, 

26, 41, 85, 89, 92, 93, 105, 

232, 233, 234-5, 236, 237, 

239, 240 
Freud, Sigmund 56, 79, 104 
Fritsch, Willy 166 
Frow, John ix, 1 97 
Futurians, the 17, 179, 184, 


Gail, Otto Willi 226 
Galileo Galilei 219 
Gaye, Nona 14 
Geoghegan, Vincent 1 74 
Gernsback, Hugo 22, 178, 214, 

215,217,219, 220, 223, 


Ralph 124C4U 179 
Geser, Guntram 176 
Gibson, William 226 

'Gernsback Continuum, The' 

Pattern Recognition 2 

Virtual Light 190 

and Bruce Sterling, Difference 
Engine, The 154 
Gloss, Molly 

Wild Life 1 
Godard, Jean-Luc 

Alphaville 1, 76 
Golden Age SF 15, 108, 142 
Gottschalk, Felix 

Growing Up in Tier 3000 189 

Gramsci, Antonio 214, 217 
Greenblatt, Stephen 36 
Greenwald, Maggie 

Songcatcher 53 
Greimas, A.J. 198 
Griffin, Daniel 98 
Griffith, D.W 142 
Grossberg, Larry ix 
Guattari, Felix 139 
Guffey, Elizabeth 191 

Haas, Willy 159, 163, 175 
Hake, Sabine 160, 170, 171-2 
Haldeman, Joe 143, 154 
Hammett, Dashiell 71 
Haneke, Michael 

Temps du loup, Le 1 
Hannah, Daryl 77 
Haraway, Donna 19, 20, 118, 

127, 129, 132 
Hardt, Michael 88, 143, 151 
Hardy, Thomas 43 
Harvey, David 21, 182, 183, 186, 

189, 190, 192 
Hauer, Rutger 77 
Hauff, Wilhelm 

Mann im Mond, Der 1 75 
Hawks, Howard 

Big Sleep, The 77 
Hayden, Sterling 68 
Hecataeus 222 
Heckel and Jeckel 76 
Hegel, G.W.F. 11, 198, 205 
Heinlein, Robert A. 226 
Helm, Brigitte 167 
Henighan, Tom 194 
Herf, Jeffrey 169 
Hetzel, Pierre-Jules 23 
Hillix, William A. 132 
Historical Materialism: Research 
in Critical Marxist Theory 

Hobbes, Thomas 71 

INDEX 287 

Holbein the Younger, Hans 
'The Ambassadors' 29-36, 39, 
40, 42, 43 

horror 3, 19, 79 

Hoshi Shinichi 226 

Houellebecq, Michel 226 

House of Cards 80 

Howard, Ebenezer 191 

Hoyle, Fred 226 

Hribal, Jason 124 

Hugenberg, Alfred 160 

Hurt, William 78, 87 

Huston, John 

Asphalt jungle. The 68 
Maltese falcon, The 77 

Huxley, Aldous 142, 215, 226 
Island 63 

Huyssen, Andreas 167 

Iambulus 222 
Iffland, James 200 
Ihering, Herbert 159, 163, 165, 

Indiana ]ones and the Kingdom 
of the Crystal Skulls 1 

Jackson, Peter 

Lord of the Rings: The 
Fellowship of the Ring, The 

Lord of the Rings: The Return 

of the King, The 220 
Lord of the Rings: The Two 
Towers, The 220 

Jaffe, Sam 68 

James, Edward 18-19 

Jameson, Fredric ix, 2-3, 6, 8, 
12, 15,21,22, 25, 37, 40-1, 
43, 47,55, 56, 57,105, 
106-7, 138, 141-2, 143, 
196-7, 198-201,209, 213, 
214, 232, 241,245-6 

Joachim de Fiore 219 

Johnson, Samuel 76 

Jones, Gwyneth 17, 238 
Jorgensen, Darren 21 
Jutzi, Phil 

Mother Krause's Journey to 
Happiness 174 

Karatani, Kojin 143 

{Carina, Anna 76 

Katznelson, Ira 192 

Kendrick, Christopher 245-6 

Kepler, Johannes 216 

Killing, The 66, 67, 68 

Kim, Randall Duk 15 

King, Geoff 175 

Knight, Damon 17 

Komatsu Sakyo 226 

Koolhaas, Rem 154-5 

Kornbluth, Cyril M. 17, 179 

Kracauer, Siegfried 159 

Kraszna-Kraus, Andor 159 

Kropotkin, Peter 64 

Krzywinska, Tanya 175 

Kubrick, Stanley 
Killing, The 66, 67, 68 
2001: A Space Odyssey 1, 
66-7, 69, 70, 89-95, 98 

Kuhle Wampe 174 

Kunuk, Zacharias 
Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner 

Kurzweil, Ray 20, 103-7, 110, 
114, 115 

Lacan, Jacques 35, 58, 207 
Lang, Fritz 75-6, 160, 162, 165, 
171, 175, 226 
Dr Mabuse, der Spieler 171 
Frau im Mond 21, 160, 162, 

165-74, 176 
M 171 

Metropolis 12, 75, 78, 160, 
162-4, 167-8, 170, 176, 
178, 179, 190 


Lang, Fritz continued 
Spione 171 

Testament des Dr Mabuse, Das 

Latham, Rob 21, 193 
Latour, Bruno 32 
Layoun, Mary N. 173 
Le Corbusier 179, 185, 191 
Leavis, F.R. 217 
Lebowitz, Michael A. 1 1 
Lee, Ang 

Crouching Tiger, Hidden 
Dragon 220 
Lefebvre, Henri 192, 201-2, 203 
Le Guin, Ursula K. 17, 19,21, 
48, 70,197-8, 226 

Always Coming Home 48 

Dispossessed, The 47-58, 
61-2, 152,211 

Left Hand of Darkness, The 
199, 209 

'New Atlantis, The' 48 
Lehan, Richard 195 
Lem, Stanislaw 226 
Lenin, V.I. 105, 137, 145, 153^» 
Leonardo da Vinci 34 
Lepage, Robert 

Possible Worlds 1 
Levi-Strauss, Claude 118 
Lewis, C.S. 226, 247 

Out of the Silent Planet 235 

Ransom trilogy 235 
Ley, Willy 166 
Li, Jet 13 
Ligeti, Gyorgy 92 
London, Jack 17 
Lord of the Rings: The 

Fellowship of the Ring, The 

Lord of the Rings: The Return of 

the King, The 220 
Lord of the Rings: The Two 

Towers, The 220 

Lucian of Samosata 216, 222 
Luckhurst, Roger 240 
Lukacs, Georg 21, 141, 143-5, 

Luppa, Iris 21 
Lyons, Paul 99 
Lyotard, Jean-Francois 35 

M 171 

Macherey, Pierre 4-5, 24, 24-5, 

49, 54, 56, 58, 204 
MacLeod, Ken 17, 109, 143, 

153, 155, 226 
Fall Revolution quartet 20-1, 

Cassini Division, The 105, 

137, 139, 140, 146 
Sky Road, The 137, 139, 140, 


Star Fraction, The 137, 138-9, 

140, 145, 146, 152 
Stone Canal, The 137, 139, 

140, 145, 150, 151 
MacMurray, Fred 67 
Magazine of Fantasy and Science 

Fiction, The 42, 194 
Maltese Falcon, The 77 
Marcuse, Herbert 56 
Marin, Louis 37, 150, 206-7 
Marlowe, Hugh 68 
Marx, Karl 11-12, 48-9, 50, 56, 

73-4,74, 75, 80,81,113, 

122-4, 128, 132-3, 134-5, 

180-1, 199, 205, 208 
Maurus, Gerda 166 
Massey, Lyle 45 
Matrix, The 12, 16 
Matrix Reloaded, The 13, 14 
Matrix trilogy 4, 12-17 
Mayakovsky, Vladimir 226 
McMichael, Philip 128, 134 
McNally, David 119, 129-30, 


INDEX 289 

Menzies, William Cameron 

Things to Come 1 78 
Mercier, Louis-Sebastien 222 
Merle, Robert 226 
Merril, Judith 17 
Metropolis 12, 75, 78, 160, 

162^1, 167-8, 170, 178, 

179, 190 
Mieville, China 17, 22, 143, 221, 

222, 226, 247 
Bas-Lag trilogy 70, 221 
Iron Council 221 
Perdido Street Station 221 
Scar, The 221 

Miller, Jr., Walter M. 

'Darfsteller, The' 62 
Milner, Andrew 22, 232, 233 
Mitman, Gregg 132 
Moorcock, Michael 17, 226 
Moravec, Hans 20, 103 
More, Thomas 218, 222, 223, 
224, 225 

Utopia 36-8, 215 
Moreau, Jeanne 87 
Moretti, Franco 225 
Morris, William 17, 47,219, 

223, 226 

News from Nowhere x 
Moss, Carrie-Anne 12 
Mother Krause's Journey to 

Happiness 174 
Moylan, Tom 17-18,213 
Moynihan Report, 189, 194 
Mullen, R.D. 18 
Miinzenberg, Willy 174 
Murakami Haruki 226 

Nairn, Tom 152-3 

Neal, Patricia 68 

Negri, Antonio 88, 143, 151 

Neill, Sam 97 

Nelson, Cary ix 

New Wave SF 21, 143, 178-95, 

New Worlds 17 
Newsinger, John 22 
Newsletter of the Conference on 

Science Fiction of the MLA 


Niceron, Jean-Francois 34-5, 39 

Nicholls, Peter 214 

Nick Carter 165, 171, 177 

Nietzsche, Friedrich 105 

Niven, Larry 2, 202 

Nixon, Richard M. 115 

Nolan, Christopher 

Dark Night, The 1 
Noske, Barbara 124-5 

Oberth, Hermann 

Die Rakete zu den 
Planetenrdumen 165 
O'Connor, Alice 194 
Olimsky, Fritz 170 
Orwell, George 17, 215, 226 

Nineteen Eight-four 1 
Osment, Haley Joel 119 
Owen, Robert 219 

Pahl, Walter 172 

Pan's Labyrinth 220, 221 

Panofsky, Erwin 45 

Parnov, Eremei 226 

Parrinder, Patrick 217 

Pascal, Blaise 76 

Perrineau, Harold 14 

Piercy, Marge 17, 21, 47, 143, 226 

He, She and It 120 
Pindner, David 191 
Pinkney, Tony 153 
Pinthus, Kurt 159 
Plato 216, 219, 222, 225 
Platonov, Andrey 226 
Piatt, Charles 

Twilight of the City 189-90 


Poe, Edgar Allan 79, 214, 215, 
216, 225, 226 
'Descent into the Maelstrom, 
A' 3 

'Facts in the Case of M. 

Valdemar, The' 3 
'Mesmeric Revelations' 3 
'Tale of the Ragged Mountains, 

A' 3 

Pohl, Frederik 17, 179 
Pohl, Klaus 166 
Pol, Heinz 165 
Possible Worlds 1 
Pournelle, Jerry 2, 202 
Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph 219 
Proyas, Alex 

Dark City (1998) 75-6, 78-82 
Prudham, W. Scott 134 
Prumm, Karl 175 
Pullman, Phillip 143 
pulp SF 21, 22, 142, 178, 179, 
182, 183, 185,226, 241, 

Pulp Fiction 67 
Pynchon, Thomas 
Gravity's Rainbow 1 

Quick, Patrick 209 

Rabelais, Francois 218, 222 
Rabkin, Eric S. 194-5 
Rage Against the Machine 

'Wake Up' 16 
Rainwater, Lee 53 
Rasp, Fritz 166 
Rastier, F. 198 
Reagan, Ronald 2, 202 
Reeves, Keanu 13 
Renard, Maurice 226 
Rennie, Michael 68 
Reservoir Dogs 67 
Reynolds, Mack 17 
Richardson, Ian 80 

Rieder, John 19, 20, 23 
Roberts, Adam 234, 236 
Roberts, John x 
Robinson, Edward G. 68 
Robinson, Kim Stanley 17, 19, 
137-8, 143, 148-9, 149, 
152, 202, 226 

Blue Mars 47, 49, 58-61, 62-3 

Mars trilogy 70, 138 

Red Mars 202 

Years of Rice and Salt, The 154 
Roh, Franz 222 
Roosevelt, Franklin D. 69 
Rosny atne, J.H. 226 
Ross, Andrew 178-9 
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques 109 
Rowling, J.K. 

Harry Potter and the Goblet of 
Fire 220 
Rumbaug, Duane M. 132 
Russ, Joanna 17, 21, 70, 226 
Rutsky, R.L. 167-8 

Sahl, Hans 165 
Saint Paul 105 

Saint-Simon, Henri de 218, 222 
Santo 14 

Sartre, Jean-Paul 213 
Schon, Erhard 34 
Schorske, Carl 172 
Schott, Gaspar 34 
Schreber, Daniel Paul 79 
Schurman, Rachel 129 
Science Fiction Foundation, The 

Science Fiction Research 
Association, The 17 
Science Fiction Studies 18, 197-8, 

199,213, 220-1 
Scott, Ridley 
Alien 95 

Blade Runner 76, 77-8, 80, 
96, 190, 195 

INDEX 291 

Scott, Walter 224, 225 
Sewell, Rufus 78 
Shaviro, Steven 20 
Shakespeare, William 76, 225 

The Tempest 70, 225 
Sheckley, Robert 195 
Shelley, Mary 153,215,216, 

220, 222 
Frankenstein, or the Modern 

Prometheus 3, 69, 77, 215, 


Shelley, Percy 69, 77-8 

Prometheus Unbound 8 1 
Shklovsky, Victor 33 
Shumway, David R. 207 
Silverberg, Robert 

The World Inside 189, 195 
Simak, Clifford 

City 201-2 
Simmons, Laurence 132 
Sinclair, Upton 

Jungle, The 136 
Situationism 181, 182, 201, 

Smith, Cordwainer 20 
'Ballad of Lost C'mell, The' 

121, 126 
'Dead Lady of Clown Town, 

The' 121, 125, 126, 128-9, 


'Game of Rat and Dragon, 
The' 122 

Instrumentality of Mankind 
stories 121, 126, 130, 131 

Norstrilia 122, 125-6 

'Under Old Earth' 118 
Smith, Will 13 
Sobchack, Vivian 99 
Society for Utopian Studies 17 
Solaris 1 

Soleri, Paolo 195 
Solon 219 
Songcatcher 53 

Spengler, Oswald 

The Decline of the West 189, 

Spielberg, Steven 

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence 119 

Close Encounters of the Third 
Kind 70 

Indiana Jones and the 
Kingdom of the Crystal 
Skulls 1 
Spiner, Brent 119 
Spinoza, Baruch 151 
Spinrad, Norman 226 
Spione 171 
Spitz, Jacques 226 
Spivak, Gayatri 143 
Stalinism 73 
Stanwyck, Barbara 67 
Stapledon, Olaf 17, 111, 142 

Last and First Men 70 

Starmaker 70 
Stark-Gstettenbaur, Gustl 170 
Star Trek: The Next Generation 

Sterling, Bruce 225, 226 

Good Old-Fashioned Future, A 

and William Gibson, 

Difference Engine, The 154 

Stroheim, Erich von 142 

Stross, Charles 
Accelerando 20, 103, 107-15 

Strugatsy, Arkady and Boris 226 
Roadside Picnic 41-2, 43 

Superman 14 

Surrealism 35, 242 

Sutherland, Kiefer 78 

Suvin, Darko 5, 18-19, 20, 21, 
22, 26, 39, 85, 141, 197-8, 
231-5, 239, 240, 241,243, 
245, 245-6, 246, 247 

Swift, Jonathan 216, 222 


Sylvester, William 91 

2001: A Space Odyssey 1, 66-7, 

69, 70, 89-95, 98 
Tafuri, Manfredo 191 
Tarantino, Quentin 

Pulp Fiction 67 

Reservoir Dogs 67 
Tarkovsky, Andrei 226 

Solaris 1 
Temps du loup, Le 1 
Testament des Dr Mabuse, Das 

Theopompus 222 
Things to Come 178 
Timberlake, Justin 231 
Tiptree, Jr., James (Alice Sheldon) 

To Play the King 82 
Tolkien, J.R.R. 220, 221, 235 
Tolstoy, Alexei 142, 226 
Torres, Bob 127, 128, 130-1 
Troska, J.M. 226 
Trotsky, Leon 203 
Truman, Harry S. 68 
Tsiolkovsky, Konstantin 
'On the Moon' 3 

Ultraman 14 

Until the End of the World 20, 
83-90, 92, 93-8 

Utopia 13, 19, 21, 36, 37, 38, 44, 
47-65, 75, 80, 104, 105, 
106, 109, 115, 119, 137, 
138, 140, 141, 143, 147, 
148, 149, 150, 151, 152, 
153, 161, 162, 164, 172, 
173, 174, 178, 179, 180, 
185, 186,195, 201,202, 
220, 221, 222, 224, 226, 
227, 232, 239, 241, 242, 
243, 244 

Verne, Jules 4-5, 11, 12, 14, 
23-4, 24, 204,214,215, 
216, 220, 223, 225, 226, 

Adventures of Captain 

Hatteras, The 1 1 
Around the Moon 1 1 
Around the World in Eighty 

Days 3, 12 
Five Weeks in a Balloon 224 
Journey to the Centre of the 

Earth 11 
Mysterious Island, The 24 
Paris in the Twentieth Century 


Steam House, The 10-11 
Twenty Thousand Leagues 

under the Seas 4, 5-12, 16, 


Vernon, Howard 76 
Vinge, Vernor 103, 115 

Marooned in Realtime 103 
Vint, Sherryl 20 
Virgil 222 
Volcker, Paul 115 
van Vogt, A.E. 15, 40 

"Weapon Shop, The' 40-1 
von Hanstein, Otfried 226 
von Harbou, Thea 164, 165, 

von Sydow, Max 87 
von Wagenheim, Gustav 166 

Wachoswki brothers 

Bound 25 

Matrix, The 12, 16 

Matrix Reloaded, The 13, 14 

Matrix trilogy 4, 12-17 
Walther, Daniel 226 
Watkins, S. Craig 194 
Watson, Ian 

'Slow Birds' 19, 42-4 
Wayne, Mike ix 

INDEX 293 

Weaving, Hugo 12 
Wegner, Phillip 20 
Wells, H.G. 17, 39-40, 141, 142, 
214,215,216,219, 220, 
223, 225, 226, 233, 236, 
237, 238, 239^t0 
Island of Doctor Moreau, The 

'Man of the Year Million' 3 
'Rediscovery of the Unique, 
The' 3 

Time Machine, The 3, 12, 70, 

War of the Worlds, The 3, 40, 

When the Sleeper Wakes 40 
Wenders, Wim 

Until the End of the World 20, 
83-90, 92, 93-8 
West, Cornel 25, 200-1 
White Hell ofPitz Patu, The 

Whitman, Walt 187 

'Crossing Brooklyn Ferry' 
Wilcox, Fred M. 

Forbidden Planet 225 
Wilder, Billy 

Double Indemnity 66, 67, 
67-8, 71, 73-4 

Williams, Raymond ix, 22, 47, 
217, 221-2, 223-5, 227 
Volunteers, The 213 

Willis, Martin 6 

Wilson, F. Paul 
Sims 122 

Wired 108 

Wise, Robert 

Day the Earth Stood Still, The 
66, 67, 68-9, 70, 71-2, 74, 
87-8, 91 

Wisniewski-Snerg, Adam 226 

Wolch, Jennifer 132 

Wolfe, Gary K. 195 

Wymer, Thomas L. 1 93 

Wyndham, John 226 

Yancey, William L. 194 
Young, Sean 77 
Yuen Woo-Ping 13 

Zamyatin, Yevgeny 142, 215, 
223, 226 
We 152, 179 

Zane, Billy 1 

Zelazny, Roger 226 

Zizek, Slavoj 14, 35-6, 49, 56, 
57, 58, 107, 143, 144, 
144-5, 145, 148, 149, 153^